October 22, 2014

22 October 2014 Caroline

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day off to get my feet rub by Caroline

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


The 11th Duke of Marlborough was the custodian of Blenheim Palace and preserved Vanbrugh’s baroque masterpiece for future generations

The Duke of Marlborough

The Duke of Marlborough Photo: JOHN LAWRENCE

5:54PM BST 16 Oct 2014


The 11th Duke of Marlborough, who has died aged 88, devoted his life to preserving his family seat of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, for the benefit of future generations.

After inheriting the dukedom on the death of his father in 1972, the Duke applied his shrewd commercial flair to the business of pulling in the crowds, introducing regular opening hours, tea rooms, boat trips, as well as a gift shop, maze and butterfly house.

In what he described as “the ongoing battle of Blenheim”, he let out the house for corporate entertaining and the grounds for pop concerts, and even went so far as to open the family’s private apartments to the public.

He introduced proper accounts, insisting that every part of the business should be self-financing, and founded the Blenheim international horse trials, which have become a popular annual event.

Blenheim Palace owes its name to Blindheim, in Austria, where on August 13 1704 John Churchill, who had been created Duke of Marlborough in 1702, held back King Louis XIV’s troops and saved Vienna from a French attack.

To show her gratitude, Queen Anne presented the Duke with the royal manor of Woodstock in Oxfordshire and promised that a palace would be built for him in the grounds to be paid for by the Crown.

The baroque masterpiece that was created by Sir John Vanbrugh is a vast, triumphalist celebration of military victory. The Grinling Gibbons pinnacles show Marlborough’s coronet crushing the fleur-de-lis; the rooftop lions are biting into French cockerels; and there is a captured bust of Louis XIV in the centre of the south front.

The original layout of the trees in the park even mimicked Marlborough’s battle lines, though the grounds were redesigned under the 4th Duke by Capability Brown.

Yet even Queen Anne did not anticipate the grandeur and huge expense of Blenheim, and the house went on to become a financial burden to the Dukes of Marlborough for more than 300 years. The huge expense of maintaining the house often tempted them to desperate stratagems that did little for their reputation — or happiness. Gladstone famously remarked: “There never was a Churchill from John of Marlborough that had either morals or principles”.

In recent generations, the “wicked” 8th Duke had sold off many of Blenheim’s treasures to pay for the Palace’s upkeep; the 9th Duke sold himself to the American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, in one of the most unhappy and blatantly arranged marriages in history. Their son, the 10th Duke, was once described by Auberon Waugh as “one of the most richly absurd characters the English aristocracy ever produced, famous for his appalling rudeness, amazing tactlessness and quite extraordinary greed”.

Yet despite their efforts, when the 11th Duke inherited the titles and estates, the Palace and park were in a poor state and he was forced to surrender the Blenheim archives to meet death duties.

The Duke of Marlborough in his study at Blenheim (JOHN LAWRENCE)

“It would be wrong to say,” he observed, “that I was longing to inherit because that would suggest I wanted my father to die, but there were certain things that couldn’t be done while he was alive.”

The 11th Duke’s achievement was in succeeding where so many of his ancestors had failed: in maintaining and improving his estate without compromising his principles or reputation. It was, the Duke said, his dearest wish “to ensure that my heir finds the place in the best possible state of repair and the estate in good order.”

It was a gruelling, uphill battle. Repainting the interiors took seven years, and rewiring took another seven. In 2009 the Duke had to spend £1 million to rebuild the Blenheim Dam and its adjoining cascade, created by “Capability” Brown, to comply with a law requiring that such structures be able to withstand a one-in-10,000-years flood

The Duke’s first two marriages had ended in divorce, and his heir, James, Marquess of Blandford, his eldest surviving son by his first marriage, was deemed for many years to be unsuitable to assume responsibility for the estate. A troubled man with a drugs problem, the Marquess clocked up a string of convictions for burglary, assault, and drugs and driving offences.

In 1994 the Duke and the trustees of the estate obtained a High Court order preventing Lord Blandford from having any management powers over the estate after the Duke’s death. A new trust was established that would oversee the estate’s assets after the Duke’s death, and then pass control to the Marquess’s son, George, when he succeeded. But in 2012, after the Marquess was reported to have been drug-free for five years, the Duke told a television documentary that he would inherit not just the title, but would also be given an executive role in the running of Blenheim Palace — although, like the Duke himself, he would be answerable to the trustees .

The Marquess had often blamed his father for his problems and, partly as a result, the debonair 6ft 5in Duke was sometimes described by profile writers as being remote, formal and stuffy. But the American author Bill Bryson found him “a charming man”, and other interviewers were often surprised to find themselves won over by his sense of humour and warm chuckle. His workforce at Blenheim regarded him as a benign if exacting employer; in 1989 he announced that he would be paying the poll taxes of workers and tenants on his estate.

John George Vanderbilt Henry Spencer-Churchill was born on April 13 1926, the elder son of the 10th Duke of Marlborough by his first marriage to Mary Cadogan, daughter of Viscount Chelsea. His father’s cousin, Winston Churchill, himself born at Blenheim, was one of his godparents.

After Eton, the young Lord Blandford, as he then was, joined the Life Guards, from which he retired in the rank of captain in 1952. Thereafter he involved himself in the management of Blenheim, particularly in the public opening of the Palace.

While his father was still alive, he lived five miles away at Lee Place, a country house which he kept on after becoming duke as a retreat for the family during the busy summer opening season. During the 1950s he served as a councillor on Oxfordshire County Council and became a magistrate.

Having inherited the Marlborough peerages in 1972, the Duke took his seat in the House of Lords and in his maiden speech the next year drew attention to the damage caused to sheep flocks by badgers. After that, he contributed only occasionally to debates, though he was for many years a member of the House of Lords bridge team. He lost his seat in the Lords when Labour banished all but 92 of the hereditary peers in 1999.

The Duke was chairman of Martini Rossi from 1979 to 1996 and president of the Thames and Chilterns Tourist Board from 1974. He also served as president of the Oxfordshire Association for Young People and of the Oxfordshire branch of the Country Landowners’ Association. He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Oxfordshire in 1974.

He was a first-class shot and a good horseman, riding hard to hounds with the Heythrop. He was president of the Sports Aid Foundation (South Eastern Area) and of Oxford United Football Club in 1955. In 1959 he was honorary vice-president of the Football Association.

The Duke’s first wife, whom he married in 1951, was Susan Hornby, daughter of the deputy chairman of WH Smith. They had a daughter and two sons, the eldest of whom died aged two. When, shortly afterwards, his wife left him for another man, the Duke gained custody of their children; they divorced in 1961.

Tina Livanos, the former wife of the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, became the Duke’s second wife in 1961. She left him to marry Stavros Niarchos, who had previously been married to her sister. She and the Duke divorced in 1971.

The Duke married thirdly, in 1972, Rosita Douglas, the daughter of a Swedish count and ambassador to the United States. With her, he had another daughter and two sons, the eldest of whom died in infancy. The marriage was dissolved in 2008, and in the same year he married Lily Mahtani — her father, Narinder Sahni, has been a top executive with the Hinduja Group.

The Duke is succeeded to the Marlborough titles by his eldest son James, Marquess of Blandford, who was born in 1955.

The 11th Duke of Marlborough, born April 13 1926, died October 16 2014


George Osborne ‘While George Osborne scrabbles around the empty economic policies cupboard for pre-election sweeteners, it is time for everyone else to realise the patently obvious fact that you cannot have true economic growth if you keep reducing people’s pay.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

Ha-Joon Chang powerfully argues the case that it was “an economic fairytale” which “led Britain to stagnation” (Opinion, 20 October). It may be added that our universities bear a heavy responsibility for this situation. Certainly, it cannot be denied that the fairytale paradigm (“supply-and-demand”, competition in the market, and all the rest of it) can be applied to any economic issue. The point, however, is that the currently dominant adherents of this approach deny that any other approach can even claim to be economics at all; indeed, adherents of other schools of thought have very largely been purged from our university economics departments.

Proponents of the fairytale justify this stranglehold by claiming that all former insights into the economy that have stood the test of time have now been incorporated into their own – narrowly quantitative – “modelling” framework: thus, Keynes’s discussions of uncertainty are reduced to “models” of expectations, Hayek’s alternative to neoclassicism into models of “price messages”, Marx’s heritage into models of inequality, Ricardo’s into “rent-seeking”, and so on. Consequently, so the argument goes, there is no longer any basis for the claim that there are different schools of thought in economics. There is only one.

It is the inflexible grip of this intolerant orthodoxy on university economics departments which has so signally distanced academic economics from engagement in discussion and debate outside the academic arena, much of which is directed towards questioning its fairytales. It is, by the same token, very encouraging that students who reject their approach have in the past year or more been reintroducing into university economics departments the kind of vibrant debate which ought to lie at the heart of academic life.
Dr Hugh Goodacre
Member of the academic board, University College London

• Ha-Joon Chang’s lucid analysis of the coalition’s economic record missed one crucial ingredient: the role of the banks in using public debt to facilitate a putative recovery. Armed with £375bn of artificial credit funded by the quantitative easing policy, banks ignored the real economy and lent 80% of it to speculators and homebuyers, with little heed of the 2008 crash in financial markets which we were assured must not happen again. This vast increase in the money supply will never be repaid even though legally it is a loan by the central bank, and ends up added to the national debt, but this appears not to bother George Osborne. So there is a massive contradiction in the government’s fiscal and monetary policies, such as they are. Another obvious anomaly in the welter of official statistics, some quoted by Ha-Joon Chang, is that of the claimed 1.8m new jobs “created” over four years, 75% are part-time and at low wages; if true, this merely fuels the Ukip narrative that jobs are being taken mainly by “foreigners”, since official unemployment was 2.6m when the coalition took office and has only come down by 600,000 in four years, implying that at least 1m new jobs have not dented official jobless numbers. Furthermore, the official figures are always quoted before offsetting job losses over the same period, so are misleading.

The real tragedy for the public is that the most neoliberal Tory government in 70 years has deliberately eschewed macroeconomic stimulus in favour of a very short-term political strategy aimed squarely at those most likely to vote Conservative and abandoning the rest to “market forces”. I suspect that when the next Labour government examines the books it will discover more than just a few holes and almost certainly that “there is no more money left”, since taxes are falling despite a recovery, suggesting that the GDP figures are highly dubious.
Adrian Berridge

• The two Eds might usefully consider producing a short script, based on Ha-Joon Chang’s piece, for all Labour spokespersons to use from now on to rebut the tendentious assertions by coalition ministers, MPs and their economic policy groupies and fellow travellers about how Labour “crashed the economy” and how in spite of that they are bringing about a marvellous economic renaissance.
Suzanna Hopwood

• Is it really “the unending economic crisis” that “makes us feel powerless” (Paul Mason, G2, 20 October), or the persistent failure by those in power to act in the interests of ordinary people? To blame the economic crisis is to accept the current dogma of mainstream politicians and the elite, who like us to think that we are all in the same boat, with the same worries. But their interests – in high property prices, regressive taxes, cheap labour and privatised services – are the opposite of those of most people. There’s a very great deal that can be done, even in our globalised world, to regain power and control at local and national levels. And we don’t need to look as far as Greece to find inspiration. The yes campaign in Scotland was – and is – as much about creating a fairer and more equal society and protecting public services, as about civic nationalism. Even without independence, the SNP is proposing fairer property taxes. Naming the problem an “economic crisis” gives the impression of a force beyond human control; naming it a crisis of decision-making by those in power makes it much more open to challenge.
Mary Braithwaite
Wye, Kent

• So it takes a woman to show real statesmanlike quality in a political economy dominated by men, as first Christine Lagarde and now Janet Yellen point out that the ever-rising inequality we have experienced over the last few decades is counter to the basic principle of equality of opportunitiy on which free societies are based (Report, 18 October). But both know that there is more to it than that: rising inequality also threatens the day-to-day functioning of such states. There is a limit, soon reached, to how much a single family can consume, so that the redistribution of income from poorer to richer families must lead to a chronic deficiency of demand for reproducible goods. Ever-cheaper credit to those who are income- and asset-poor is the only way of sustaining purchasing power, but with the ultimately unbearable strain that this puts on financial markets. Austerity packages that hit the poor still further only make matter worse. In his new role as senior statesman, the ex-money-market man Nigel Farage should be banging on about this rather than immigration and the EU.
William Dixon and David Wilson
London Metropolitan University

• Ed Balls is now apparently backing away from an effective property tax (Balls seeks to calm fears in London over mansion tax, 21 October). However, as your chart on the rise of the super-rich showed (UK wealth in numbers, 15 October), individual wealth increased by £1.67tn in the last year. To put this in perspective, the increase in assets has exceeded the GDP of the UK as a whole; more money has been made from wealth than from working. If just 10% of this increase were taxed, the resultant revenue could pay off both the UK deficit and the student loan book, while helping to restore the NHS budget. Labour should recognise that, whatever the problems besetting the UK, shortage of money is not one of them. What is needed is the clear political will to tax unearned wealth fairly.
Dr Mark Ellis

• Three articles in the same day’s Guardian had the same message. Ha-Joon Chang, Paul Mason and Amelia Gentleman (Coalition Britain) all, in different ways, said that austerity – and shortage of money for the majority of the population and public sector – was the reason why the economy was not functioning strongly, individuals were demoralised and services were inadequate. Hasn’t the time come for a campaign for a new economic vision – led by the Guardian?
Janet Lewis

• The UK does need a counter-narrative on the economy. Thankfully, one is already emerging locally and laterally. Any political party that thinks it can build an engaging economic narrative from the top down is living in a previous century.

Local collaborations on empty-space use, a growth in community energy cooperatives, an abundance of crowdfunded projects, and the way some local authorities are spending for maximum social value are evidence of a new momentum on bottom-up, socially minded economic growth. It is a growth model that embraces new technologies and old “friendly-society”-style inclusion; it is market-based but socially driven. It is time for Labour leaders to follow the people, and help them unleash the power in their local communities to develop a new narrative and a new economic reality.
Peter Holbrook
Chief executive, Social Enterprise UK

• Borrowing is increasing under this government, as the gaping black hole in government finances is swallowing up another £100bn-plus of borrowing this year. The truth is that the deficit has hardly reduced since 2010/11, only partly reducing because of Post Office pension and mobile phone licence windfalls into the government coffers. Add to this the fact that tax receipts are increasing at half the rate that they have been for 50 years and the corporation tax giveaway reduction by Osborne from 28% to 20% is now depriving the public finances of £8bn per year. We would be unlikely to know that this economic mismanagement has been taking place, as our BBC, ITV, radio and newspaper journalists (with the exception of the Guardian) seem wilfully incapable of bringing this to our attention. I am yet to hear Andrew Marr, Andrew Neil, James Naughtie, Evan Davis or even Martha “deficit denier” Kearney ask a government spokesperson to explain why the deficit remains stubbornly high and why for the first time in history a government would have doubled debt in one term of office, or even to draw the obvious link between low wages and low tax receipts. Our journalists are still in thrall to the debt narrative, when the facts are pointing to a failure of austerity. If they started to ask these questions, who knows, even the Labour leadership may start drawing attention to it.
Cllr Barry Kushner
Labour, Norris Green ward, Liverpool city council

• Those of a certain age may remember a BBC TV series called Tomorrow’s World that reported on new technological, scientific and medical discoveries that would improve the lives of everybody. The way these were described suggested an end to drudgery and soul-destroying jobs like fitting wheel nuts on a Ford, and shorter working hours and working weeks for everyone; production of abundant food would abolish famine, medical advances would eradicate malaria, cholera and so on. Science and technology would be used for the greater common good. It sounds like a socialist pipe dream now because the reality is the opposite. All the patents and rights to these scientific, medical and technological advances were acquired by Big Business solely to make huge profits, accumulate great wealth and put unbridled power into the hands of unelected, ruthless megalomaniacs. Too many of us have become slaves to technology working longer hours for less pay, no holidays because of zero-hours contracts, living in glorified rabbit hutches, eating unhealthy, mass-produced convenience foods and kept docile by talent shows, soap operas, football and endless repeats of Friends on the telly – the modern-day equivalent of bread and circuses; the Roman empire’s means of pacifying the plebs. Yes, capitalism works. But only for the 1%. Successive governments have sleep walked us into this dilema, and TTIP will only make matters worse. Marching through Whitehall changes nothing. Time for a completely new kind of politics.
Bob Ross

• The prime minister has opened the statutory Tory campaign against inheritance tax, by saying that it should be paid only by “the very wealthy”, and adds ‘you should be able to pass a family home on to your children rather than leave it to the taxman” (PM backs rise in inheritance tax threshold, 15 October).

If he believes that the widows and children of hard-working men are being thrown out of their homes up and down the country to meet enormous IHT bills, he needs to be reintroduced to reality.

Liability to IHT begins with estates of £325,000. The latest figures, for 2011-12, show that there were about 30,000 estates of between that figure and £500,000. But that is before various reliefs and exemptions that reduce the number actually liable to under 3,000. Their average income is £380,000, and four out of five had owned their homes – worth £230,000 on average. The IHT they paid worked out at £23,000 – again on average.

In 2011-12 fewer than 16,000 were charged IHT – less than 3% of the number of deaths. That seems as good a definition of the “very wealthy” as any. And as to being forced to sell up to meet the IHT bill, HMRC are prepared to accept payments over 10 years, or await the next sale to collect their money. Perhaps the prime minister could find out how many houses have had to be sold?
Harvey Cole
Winchester, Hampshire

• Deborah Orr (Anti-politics is all the rage, on radical left and right, 18 October) uses the disability debate to point out the fundamental difference in thinking between the left and right in politics. Conservatives (whether they describe themselves as “neolib” or not) hold that things would be so much better “if only the market could be left to make decisions unimpeded by the state”. Those of us who think somewhat more to the left hold that both the state and the market should exist for the sake of citizens, not the other way around. After all, this is in the interest of the market. They make their money by supplying demand. They won’t make money if demand in the form of citizens’ incomes is too low to sustain their supply.

Deborah rightly points out all the faults and unfairness of an unregulated market, but like all commentators these days fails to suggest possible solutions. When I had a business in Plymouth years ago I always paid my staff a living wage regardless of so-called disabilities, regardless also of business ups and downs, such that at times I drew out for my family less than staff wages. The business survived, largely because of staff loyalty. So my answer in the current debate is simple. If some employers are not prepared to accept an element of social responsibility, then they should be made to do so by regulation. For example, if say 10% of the working population are regarded as having a disability, then employers should be made to employ the same percentage in their workforce at the same rate as for all employees.

I can imagine the neolib response to this, how unfair this would be to business. Not at all. Business is reaping all the rewards in our society, at the expense of citizens, whether taxpayers, employees or consumers. It’s time they were made to return the favour.

In a wider context, Deborah talks about anti-politics being “all the rage”. Of course it is. Until the left comes out of its shell and starts shouting passionately about how our society can escape the neolib trap and start promoting an altogether more fair and equal society, people will remain dismissive.
David Stapleton
Whitchurch, Devon

• So with a degree of predictability we see that the national debt is now £1.45tn, more than £100bn higher than the same point last year (Government borrowing 10% higher than last year,, 21 October). The government’s much-heralded economic recovery is a recovery of low-waged, unpredictable and unstable jobs which automatically drives up in-work benefits, lowers tax receipts and leads to an entirely misleading form of economic growth based on increased personal debt.

A possible solution for this might be to commit to investing in better-paid and secure jobs to reduce in-work benefits and increase tax receipts. An example? There is clear evidence that healthcare spending improves economic growth. Local hospitals are therefore fundamental to the local economy. Instead we have £20bn cuts dressed up as efficiency savings , £10.8bn in savings made either by underpaying staff or cutting staffing, and a failure to give NHS staff even a 1% pay increase. This health context is a perfect microcosm of what has gone wrong with recent economic policy. That is, the clear evidence that investment in NHS staff pay and staff leads to real growth is ignored because it doesn’t fit with the demands of free-market dogma, privatisation and the interests of party funders.

While George Osborne scrabbles around the empty economic policies cupboard for pre-election sweeteners, it is time for everyone else to realise the patently obvious fact that you cannot have true economic growth if you keep reducing people’s pay.
Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action party

Scotland Training And Press Conference Gordon Strachan, Scotland’s head coach, in Warsaw, for the team’s European Championship qualifier against Poland, October 2014. Photograph: Adam Jagielak/Getty Images

Your correspondent seems to assume that Patrick Gordon Walker was parachuted in to a safe seat in Smethwick in 1964 (Letters, 21 October). However, he was the sitting MP and had been since 1945. Even though Gordon Walker lost his seat, Harold Wilson still made him foreign secretary.

The allegation of carpetbagging was certainly true of Gordon Walker’s next attempt to re-enter parliament when a byelection was engineered in the safe seat of Leyton, only for him to be rejected by the local electorate. Perhaps your reader is confusing these two events.
Roy Boffy
Aldridge, Walsall

• Like Eva Joyce (Guidelines from our own correspondents, Letters, 20 October), I “glance first at the headlines of the letter groups” when deciding what to read. So imagine my disappointment that under the headline to the left (as always) of her letter, “Scotland needs you to finish the job, Gordon”, I end up reading more stuff about Gordon Brown, rather than Gordon Strachan and his quest for European Championship qualification.
Phil O’Neill
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

“The hunt for Reds in October” (front page headline, 20 October)? The Soviet Union collapsed over 20 years ago. The Russians are no longer “the Reds”, whatever smart film allusion you might be trying to make. Use headlines to tell us the news, not to increase hysteria.
Ian Mac Eochagáin
Helsinki, Finland

• Re the comment from a student protester that objections to two women kissing in a Brighton Sainsbury’s were surprising, “something he might expect in his home town of Southampton” (Love in the aisles, 16 October). This year Southampton is celebrating 50 years as a city, and many same-sex couples walk in the city centre exchanging a cuddle or kiss – no one bats an eyelid.
Carol Cunio

• The Kleptocene (Letters, passim)?
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

Stereoscopic image of an enzyme (serene hydroxymethyltransferase) Stereoscopic image of an enzyme (serine hydroxymethyltransferase, SH) that is a potential target for anti-cancer drug development. The research work was carried out at The Institute of Cancer Research, University of London, and was published in the scientific journal Structure. Image: Dr Keith Snell

Readers wondering why a pair of stereoscopic images accompanied the story of Brian May’s Tate exhibition (Brian May turns up the stereo with Victorian 3D photos at Tate Britain, 21 October) when they need to be seen through “the lenses of a special viewer” can relax. The equipment is readily available in the form of your eyes. The technique is to hold the page about 12 inches in front of the face and focus on a point midway between the two images. Allowing the eyes to cross will combine the outer images into a central one which is then seen as stereoscopic.

Far from being a Victorian relic, such stereoscopic viewing is routinely used in scientific papers published in journals of structural molecular biology.
Dr Keith Snell
Cockermouth, Cumbria

Class at the Clacton Coastal academy. Geographical isolation can make it hard to staff schools such as Clacton Coastal academy, above. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Clacton-on-Sea may be on the end of the line in railway terms but its “failing” comprehensive school, Bishops Park college, has lessons for today (The coastal schools neglected by national initiatives, 16 October). Students felt at home, known and cared for in the three small schools that made up its campus. The school was built on the “schools within a school” model, which provides a more personalised education for all students. The integrated curriculum combined with imaginative teaching methods made possible the mixed ability teaching that was part of a whole-school commitment to inclusion and social justice.

By the time it closed in 2009 nearly all its 16-year-old leavers were going on into jobs, training or further education – a huge achievement in an area of high unemployment and low aspiration. There were nil rates of pregnancy and of permanent exclusion. Parents and the local community supported the school and used the campus facilities.

Bishops Park did not achieve the GCSE results demanded by the Department for Education. But it did not fail. What it did achieve was a school community that respected the talents and interests of all its students and gave them an authentic experience of living in the 21st century. The most important lesson to be learned from its short history is that there is an urgent need to rethink our notions of success and failure.
Mary Tasker

• Your article on coastal schools rightly highlighted their difficulty in securing excellent outcomes for students and recruiting and retaining teachers and headteachers.

Geographical isolation can present significant challenges, but the government has most definitely not left these schools behind. There are a number of government initiatives in place to support schools like Clacton Coastal academy.

Through the pupil premium – extra funding worth £2.5bn a year – we are helping schools transform the way we educate our disadvantaged children. And this is working – a recent report by Ofsted showed that the achievement gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is closing.

But the importance of high-quality leadership in our schools cannot be overstated. We know there is a strong link between school leadership, quality of teaching, and outcomes for pupils. That is why last month I launched Talented Leaders, a programme run by the Future Leaders Trust that aims to recruit 100 exceptional school leaders and match them with schools that are facing some of the toughest challenges – predominantly those in rural, coastal or deprived areas that are finding it difficult to attract a great leader.

These brilliant heads will provide a real leadership boost to a struggling school, help to spread excellence and drive up standards across the area. We are currently recruiting the first cohort of leaders who will be in post by September 2015. Further heads will be recruited and appointed by September 2016.

And, as a further step towards tackling underperformance, we also recently announced a £13m school-to-school support fund, which over the next two years will enable our existing pool of exceptional leaders – the national leaders of education – to support schools in areas of greatest need.
David Laws MP
Schools minister

Underwater photograph of a boys high school swim team practicing in an Olympic size swimming pool. ‘If walking is excluded, swimming is the national sport for participation.’ Photograph: Alamy

Please be clear when you claim it is not “hard to argue that the national sport is booming” (Fans are more than mere customers. It’s time for reforms that could give them some clout, Editorial, 20 October) that you are referring to football spectating. Sport England’s Active People Survey shows that participation in football continues to decrease from 4.97% to 4.33% of the population and that 94% of participants are male. In fact, if walking is excluded, swimming is the national sport for participation, and 64% of participants are female. Running and cycling, in which the sexual division of play is also much more equal, are not far behind. This is important because the “booming national sport” narrative appears to legitimise spending more money on football than any other sport. This means Sport England funding per participant is £38 for football, but only £8 for swimming, £11 for athletics and £16 for cycling. In participation terms, football is neither the national sport nor booming. So, in what way does this constitute financial fair play?
Cathy Devine
Senior lecturer, sport and physical activity policy, University of Cumbria

Dr Fadipe, a Nigerian doctor who survived being infected with the Ebola virus Dr Fadipe, a Nigerian doctor who was infected with the Ebola virus and survived, credits oral rehydration fluid for his recovery. On 20 October, the World Health Organization declared the country Ebola-free. Photograph: Andrew Esiebo/WHO/AP

As we have seen with the terrible Ebola outbreak, Africa still has huge problems (On the Ebola frontline, G2, 21 October). Why doesn’t each of the EU countries adopt an African nation, to make a difference by practical help, leadership, technology and encouragement? Scotland adopted Malawi a while ago. It would be interesting to see which EU countries could make the most difference to its adoptee – and all would learn from a competitive spirit and from each other. Africa need not be like it is. It has the long-term capability to be a great resource in the world economy as a supplier and as a market. It could also help relieve the problems associated with migration to the EU (Record numbers of migrants have died in the Mediterranean, 21 October). If Africa’s economies could be fully developed, perhaps its peoples would not need to risk death to escape.
Frank Cannon

• Korto Williams makes a crucial point in arguing that an holistic approach is essential in dealing with Ebola (Letters, 20 October). Simply sending money will not work, not just because so much will be skimmed off to support the lifestyles of corrupt politicians, but because so often countries in that region do not have the capacity to implement top-down solutions. In my own experience working on HIV/Aids in Malawi, Unicef made the fundamental error of insisting on imposing a grand strategy – in a country without the framework of governance to implement it. What the country did and does have is a huge number of dedicated and capable people who would be able to cope if only they had the support they needed to do so. Simple measures such as providing health workers with bicycles to travel between villages has a vastly greater potential to help in a country without adequate public transport.
Dr Richard Carter

Letters In search of new ways forward. Photograph: Matt Kenyon

Let’s all work together

Twice in the 10 October Guardian Weekly, I noted writers citing population growth as the elephant in the room with regard to climate change. Margaret Perkins (Reply) suggests that population growth is the “number one accelerator of climate change”. John Gray’s review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything suggests that Klein actively avoids overpopulation as the “powerful driver of environmental crisis”.

What stumps me about the shrill voice of these arguments is the silencing effect of their pronouncements: “too many people”. So, who’s first to jump? Your family? Or that nice group over there? What are you going to do about it? Who wants to discuss the effect of China’s one-child policy?

Not yet having read Klein’s latest, I’d venture that she and many others have understood humankind’s crisis as that of a rather overvirulent species. It’s not that we’re breeding; it’s that we’re living in a self-destructive manner. Let’s have a discussion on the new ways forward, rather than finger-pointing the numbers.

Billions of termites work collaboratively. Surely we can too.
Sophie Jerram
Wellington, New Zealand

• I was intrigued by the near-juxtaposition of your article on increased volcanic activity (10 October) and your review of Naomi Klein’s recent book on climate change. The article mentions that receding glaciers may lead to increased volcanic activity, but it does not mention that volcanic activity can lead to global cooling because of ash clouds cutting off sunlight.

Now it appears that reducing ice cover may increase volcanic activity, thus leading to global cooling. Could these fearsome volcanoes save humanity from climate doom?
John Wood
Cheltenham, UK

Russia and Ukraine

I read complaints about the Russians using their gas as a political weapon (Ukraine shivers in gas row, 3 October). Should they stay put while ever-tougher sanctions are thrown in their face? The billions granted from the western-dominated IMF to the Ukrainian government could be used to pay for the military campaign. Is that not a political weapon? And what about the $5bn paid since 1991 by the US government for pro-western groups in Ukraine?

There is a great deal of hypocrisy all around and less and less is clear. But at least we have an enemy to focus on instead of the worsening economy and the social crisis rampant in western democracies.
Steffen Müller
Hamburg, Germany

• I wonder why an entire page was awarded to a Russian writer and novelist so he may vent his personal malice on President Vladimir Putin (26 September). Mikhail Shishkin suggests he has a clairvoyant understanding of Putin’s plans and thoughts, then proceeds to belittle them. He has also assembled well-known criticisms of Putin, given them his own personal touch, then heaps on cliched innuendo and insult.

I do not look forward to such pamphleteering in future editions.
Chris Rezel
Rosebery, Northern Territory, Australia

Battle across the Channel

Although I cannot but agree with John Lewis boss Andy Street that the Gare du Nord in Paris is not the most welcoming of places, how can he even imagine comparing London’s St Pancras (which I would qualify as a shopping mall, with John Lewis prominently represented, with a railway station as an accessory) with the Gare du Nord, which is the biggest railway station passenger-wise in Europe and second worldwide? (10 October). People abroad are getting rather fed up with the British half-apologetic “it was just a joke”, “it wasn’t serious” as an excuse for insulting all and sundry.

I hope others will follow my example: having been a regular patron of John Lewis on my regular return visits to the UK, I shall no longer set foot in one of their stores.
Alexandra Tavernier
Marcq-en-Baroeul, France

Meaning of independence

So Ukip have won their first parliamentary seat: this is an indictment both of the voting public and mainstream politics (17 October). I can certainly see how this brand of politics can gain popularity and some of Nigel Farage’s rhetoric, especially his criticism of Brussels, does ring true. But the bubbling undertones of xenophobia leave a really bad taste.

I felt a similar bad taste during the Scottish referendum campaign, where the two main economic planks for Scotland seemed to be: a) to keep oil revenue and b) to offer tax deals to attract international corporations to Scotland.

So what is “independence”? Is it keeping foreigners out, keeping revenue for yourself and having the freedom to roll over and tout yourself as a tax haven to corporations? It should be far more than that.

How can any western country declare independence when most of what we consume is imported from low-cost production zones on the other side of the planet? Trade with distant sources is OK if it is fair and balanced, but if milk can be produced around the corner and if bread and clothing and pots and pans can be produced in your own town or region, then those things should be sourced locally rather than from centralised, automated production centres or from ultra-low-cost sweatshops at the other end of an inhumane, CO2-intensive, corporate supply chain.

We need to take a long hard look at issues of independence, exploitation and the kind of society we really want to live in.
Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany

• It is believed that language both reflects, and affects, the way we think. Whether Irvine Welsh’s choice of language merely reflected his thinking on Scottish independence, or was a conscious attempt to affect ours, even he possibly does not know (26 September).

His words regarding total separation, “the aspiration towards democracy”, were a sleight of hand, and avoided the complexities of the democracy question.

While most democrats would favour decentralisation, it is not clear that the total removal of direct democratic representation to the higher level (UK) is without cost to the Scottish voter.

Having an accessible representative (MP) acting on my constituency’s behalf on any remaining matters that Scotland will share with the other parts of the UK seems to me, as a voter, more democratic than having my views diluted and mediated by a small Holyrood elite.

These are still sensitive times, and complex questions of what is more democratic should be considered as impartially as possible.
Roger Humphry
Errol, UK


• I was amused to learn that Mataelpino has abandoned running in front of bulls in favour of a large polystyrene ball (10 October), especially as it is a village not 10km from where I live. Our locals still run ahead of bulls (though you have to wonder at a culture where running away is deemed a display of bravery). But no wonder the residents of Mataelpino have abandoned the tradition – they were historically clearly not the most macho, as the name of their village translates as “kill the pine tree”.
Alan Williams-Key
Madrid, Spain

• It is disappointing that Richard Adams (3 October) does not mention whether the literacy test given to schoolchildren in England covered comprehension. If all that the test checked was to see whether children could sound out or pronounce words correctly, it is no great surprise that they managed. Isn’t that precisely what the phonics method focuses on – at the expense of encouraging children to find meaning? Your report suggests that there is nothing wrong in this approach. For nearly 40 years, the child’s search for meaning has been known to be the prime goal of early literacy. The English system seems bent on progressing backwards.
Krishna Kumar
Delhi, India

• You raise the concern (10 October) that China is “project[ing] power far beyond” its borders. As a result, its planes and US military aircraft are frequently meeting over the East China and South China seas. The East China sea sounds pretty close to China but it’s a long way from the US. Just who is projecting power far beyond its borders?

Patricia Clarke

Toronto, Canada

• The revelations in Harriet Sherwood’s front-page report (Isis and the schoolgirl jihadis, 3 October) came as shock. The explanation as to the cause followed in Paul Verhaeghe’s Neoliberal economy brings out the worst in us.
André Carrel
Terrace, British Columbia, Canada


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (20 October) is probably right that Russell Brand is a “dilettante”. But he challenges the status quo and stands up for those who are on its sharp end, like the young mothers in Newham. 

So he strikes a chord with tens of thousands of young – and older – people. Does anyone think that a book by Ed Miliband, who can’t even bring himself to support strike action by teachers or nurses, would fly off the shelves like Revolution is doing?

Alibhai-Brown is appalled that Brand won’t vote. Yet we all know that millions will abstain in the general election next year. Why? Because there is nothing to choose between the policies of three, now four, pro-big-business parties.

We need a party for the men and women who aren’t part of the corporate elite, a party for trade unionists, NHS users, pensioners, the low-paid, immigrants and young people who need decent jobs and homes. When there’s a real choice, and a chance to make a difference, you’ll get high turnouts, as we saw in Scotland’s referendum.

Nobody I know is sitting around “awaiting the revolution”. We’re defending services, fighting cuts, striking for a living wage, standing in elections as anti-cuts candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), offering people an alternative. We got 10 per cent in Salford last year. If we had PR we’d have a councillor or two.

Alibhai-Brown’s “institutional overhaul” of Parliament won’t bring them flocking to the polling stations – but a clear stand and a socialist alternative is like a breath of fresh air for the disenfranchised.

Paul Gerrard

Chair, Salford against Cuts, Manchester

Edward Collier (letter, 17 October) asks: “In what parallel universe is it fair that it takes 33,000 votes to return one Labour MP and 120,000 for a Lib Dem and 285,000 for a Green?” It was the system that delivers this inequity that a large majority of people actually voted for in a referendum.

I personally regret that decision, but I accept that it is the democratic will of our people, expressed in a referendum where every vote was equal.

Pete Rowberry

Saxmundham, Suffolk


Freudian slip raises a real question

There is something desperate about Ed Miliband’s outrage over Lord Freud’s case of foot-in-mouth.

He must know that this is not an issue that can be just harrumphed away. As a society, we have to look at the situation honestly. Nobody should be discriminated against, but if we want disabled people to participate in economic activity, we have to recognise that they cannot make the same contribution as an able-bodied person. It’s a big ask to expect an employer to take on a disabled person at the same wage as an able-bodied person.

The solution is for the welfare system to make up the difference. Such a policy would be perfectly acceptable to disabled people, and less of a burden on the Treasury than paying a full disability allowance.

What’s astonishing is that the Government doesn’t seem to see that – and David Cameron couldn’t spot a prime opportunity to steal Ed Miliband’s thunder.

Simon Prentis



A huge concern making billions can reasonably be expected to employ a proportion of disabled people at its own expense. A smaller outfit could be damaged by having an employee who, through no fault of their own, was less than optimally productive; in such a case it could be to the benefit of the firm, the disabled employee and society at large for the taxpayer to contribute towards their payment.

That was possibly the point that Lord Freud was trying to make. But he made it badly, and should not be a spokesman for that reason.

He may, however, have done us all a service in raising the issue of “worth”. It could be said that no one is worth more than, say, 20 times the living wage. But many are paid vastly more than that and it is their worth that needs to be challenged.

Susan Alexander

Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

The welfare minister claimed some disabled people are not worth the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour and that he’d think about how those unfortunates who might wish to work for £2 an hour might be helped to do so.

A Freudian slip or another Tory “reform” in the offing? The mindset of this divided old political party – the oldest in Europe – is as revolting as it is revealing towards the end of this parliament, no matter how artfully disguised at the beginning.

They’re out of touch, out of time –and out of here soon if there’s to be any fairness at all about politics.

John Haran

Leigh-on-Sea, Essex


Theatre of the absurd

I warmly applaud Adrian Hamilton’s article on the current theatrical fashion to rewrite or traduce plays that are part of the European classical canon (15 October). However, he omitted to mention the mauling British dramatists have received at such hands.

In a recent National Theatre production of what was claimed to be Marlowe’s Edward II the audience was greeted with a cast dressed in bomber jackets, all smoking furiously and constantly on mobile phones. Scenes were added that are not in the Marlowe text and much that is was omitted.

The nadir of this production, to me, was the scene where Edward’s court celebrated his Pyrrhic victory over the barons by waving plastic swords and dancing the hokey-cokey accompanied by an electric keyboard player on stage.

I certainly do not wish for museum theatre, but production companies must be more honest with theatre-goers. They should announce that this is Ms X’s or Mr Y’s version of Oedipus, Medea or Edward II and omit the names of Sophocles, Euripides or Marlowe from their publicity. But that might not generate the same ticket sales.

Dr Mick Morris

Hamilton, Lanarkshire


For the second time in recent months I have walked out of a London theatre because of a play’s continuous and unnecessary foul language.

Needless to say I was denied a refund of my ticket price. As I bought my ticket at the box office just before the start of the matinee performance I could not have been aware of the vile content.

Have other theatre goers also been caught out like this, and is it not time all prospective audiences were warned about such disgusting content? In future I will check before buying tickets, assuming I ever consider risking attending another London theatre venue.

Adrian Appley

Bromley, Kent


John Walsh is quite right in advocating the abolition of tiresome theatre intervals (16 October). However, I would request one exception – the Royal Opera House.

Much of the seating at this ludicrously expensive venue is unfit for humans (battery chickens spring to mind) and 30 minutes is about all I can bear on the rare occasions that I find myself being “entertained” there.

David Bracey

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire


Now, the three-day passport

Beverley Southgate (letter, 9 October) lavished well-deserved praise on the Passport Office after receiving her passport five working days after applying.

Who can beat this? I applied for my passport renewal on 6 October and received my new one on 9 October – after three working days! My congratulations to both the Passport Office and the Post Office.

Whatever new brooms, prunings or decapitations were necessary to achieve such high standards of public service efficiency, pray that they may soon be mobilised to thin out the dead wood in our NHS.

Ben Marshall

London N11


Housing help for the super-rich

Labour proposes a “mansion tax”. This will tax out middle-class Londoners who bought their houses more than 30 years ago and are now coming into retirement on modest pensions. How will that benefit any housing crisis other than that of the very wealthy wanting central London properties?

When the middle classes got driven out of Manhattan in the 1980s it became a ghetto for the super-rich and a once thriving and diverse cultural scene has been reduced to fighting for the best opera seats and to-be-seen-in restaurants.

Stephane Duckett

London SEII


Ebola or not, we need Heathrow

Nigel Long (letter, 16 October) moves away from a sensible discussion about Ebola to confuse the debate about Heathrow.

It is not airline and airport operator profits driving the need for growth but the long-term interests of current and future generations who will be affected by a decline in our international standing if Heathrow’s hub status is allowed to decline further.

Simon King

Twickenham, Middlesex


Sir, Lord Adonis and others want us to build at least 240,000 homes a year, and say that “the country must set itself on a sustainable path . . . Our children deserve no less” (“Direction needed”, letter, Oct 20).

Our children deserve to inherit a truly sustainable country. Endless growth, which of course means endless destruction of the environment, is impossible in our small and finite land. It leads to ever-increasing overcrowding and ever-reducing quality of life.

The crisis affecting our country is not the lack of housing but the strain imposed on the nation by rapid and continual population growth. Official projections confirm that the UK population is likely to rise from 64 million in 2012 to 70 million by 2027. Although more distant projections are less certain, the expectation is for continued growth, to 73 million by 2037, 75 million by 2050, 80 million by 2071, 85 million by 2087 and 90 million by 2112.

The urgent need is for a policy to aim for a sustainable population — our children deserve no less.

Peter Graystone
May Bank, Staffs

Sir, Your correspondents make a sound case for comprehensive housing development of 240,000 houses a year. But since that target, even if achievable, will involve an inevitable delay in negotiations and approvals, why not adopt a realistic short-cut through the provision of factory-made, flat-pack houses on short-leased brownfield sites, as we did in helping to solve the postwar housing shortage via the extremely popular prefabs?

As before, tenants could be offered more permanent houses when they become available and the sites then be released for permanent development. The flat-pack houses could be re-erected elsewhere, as needed, in a rolling programme.

Russ Randall
Rochford, Essex

Sir, Lord Adonis wants us to build new housing but offers no concrete suggestions. In our tiny cul-de-sac we are fighting builders who are trying to get planning permission to build four three-bedroom houses, in what is, for London, an average back garden, their excuse being that the houses are desperately needed.

If only the government would look at the bigger picture the answer is staring them in the face. Build Boris Johnson’s estuary airport and use Heathrow to build a complete new town right next to London. The infrastructure is all there right down to the Tube station, and the price of the land would go a long way to paying for the new airport.

Carol Caplan
London N11

Sir, Nick Donovan, the managing director of TransPenine, says he is short of nine trains and can see no solution to the shortage of rolling stock (“Key rail line faces being shunted into sidings”, Oct 20). Yet many railway preservation societies have carefully maintained working diesel engines and serviceable carriages that might fill the gap.

Everyone could win. The company could provide an improved service, the railway societies would gain a solid income stream and be seen to be acting in the public interest.

John Gainsborough

Alciston, E Sussex

Sir, Dame Judi Dench may have little trouble memorising poetry (Oct 20) but many of us would fail with modern works which fail to adhere to the strictures of the late Auberon Waugh that they should “rhyme, scan and make sense”. Today’s stream-of-consciousness stuff eludes me by its self-indulgent wanderings.

Come back Kipling, Eliot and Auden, all is forgiven.

Robert Vincent

Wildhern, Hants

Sir, Nick Donovan, the managing director of TransPenine, says he is short of nine trains and can see no solution to the shortage of rolling stock (“Key rail line faces being shunted into sidings”, Oct 20). Yet many railway preservation societies have carefully maintained working diesel engines and serviceable carriages that might fill the gap.

Everyone could win. The company could provide an improved service, the railway societies would gain a solid income stream and be seen to be acting in the public interest.

John Gainsborough

Alciston, E Sussex

Sir, There is nothing new about playing darts against sightless players — and with no “strings” attached (Oct 21). After the Second World War, a team from St Dunstan’s played a team from the British Legion. The rules were the same, except that the Legion had to start and finish on a double. St Dunstan’s beat us!

Dennis Milstone

Northwood, Middx

Sir, You report that British visitors to the café in Adinkerke are pleased to see “a bottle of HP sauce standing proudly on the counter” (“Smokers take ‘fag ferry’ to stock up and beat taxman”, Oct 21). Let’s hope they don’t notice the label, which says “Made in the Netherlands”.

Geoff Wilkins

Tiffield, Northants

Sir, Dr Michael Mosley’s advice on how to test the freshness of eggs (“What to do with old food”, Times2, Oct 21), reminded me of living in the late 1950s in The Gambia, where my mother would test the eggs being sold to her by a doorstep salesman by immersing them in a bucket of water. If they lay horizontally at the bottom she bought them; if they floated, she didn’t. The test never failed.

Peter Sergeant

Hathern, Leics


A 1976 Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR3 Jump Jet  Photo: Silverstone Auctions

6:56AM BST 21 Oct 2014

SIR – The British-designed P1127 – the prototype Harrier fighter – first flew on October 21 1960, a date shared with Lord Nelson’s success at Trafalgar in 1805.

The situation developing in Ukraine and the Middle East may require, once again, everything this country can provide, including both new aircraft carriers. Britain’s “next generation” fighter, the

F-35, is not ready, not serviceable, not battle-proven and is so expensive that only small numbers are ordered.

Financial prudence was argued in the decision to withdraw the Harrier. However, it is still held in such high regard by other operators – including the USA, who purchased all our Harriers when they were decommissioned – that they will remain in service for many years yet. Britain’s financial circumstances and the world’s security situation have both changed since this decision was made.

We need our carriers soon and fully equipped with battle-proven aircraft to give them fighting capability. Harriers of existing specification should be manufactured urgently and in significant numbers. The unit cost would be a fraction of that of the F-35 and they would be in service much earlier. When the F-35 proves itself, it could then be introduced, but aircraft carriers without aircraft are a liability, not an asset.

In the hours before battle, Lord Nelson signalled his fleet: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Part of that duty, surely, is to be ready. We are not.

Mark Harrison
Guernsey, Channel Islands

Is inheritance teax justified at the current threshold?

6:57AM BST 21 Oct 2014


SIR – The Reverend Peter Dyson informs us that inheritance tax is entirely justifiable because we have a moral duty to redistribute our wealth to the rest of society.

Some of us in this country have not inherited our wealth but have worked hard to earn it and have paid a substantial amount of tax in doing so. Having already redistributed wealth in this way, I fail to understand why he believes it should be necessary to do it again.

Perhaps he would like to explain his case to my children, who, faced with ever-increasing house prices, would struggle to set foot on the first rung of the housing ladder without help from their parents.

Paul Davison
Woking, Surrey

SIR – Jennifer List should not assume that her executors will be unable to make use of the unused portion of her late spouse’s inheritance tax nil rate band when she dies. When my mother died after the introduction of the present system, as her executor I was able to make use of the unused allowance from my father’s estate; he died in 1982, well before the present system was introduced.

Contrary to popular opinion, the HMRC website is clear and helpful on this and other matters.

Peter Bugge
Paxford, Gloucestershire

SIR – Sadly, David Cameron’s pledge to raise the inheritance tax threshold, thereby enabling people to pass their family home to their children, will not benefit the people who have had to sell the family home in order to fund the cost of their care in later life.

I remain unconvinced by his pre-election pledges; desperate measures from a desperate man.

Kirsty Blunt
Sedgeford, Norfolk


How homogenised milk is ruining one reader’s breakfast

articipiants take part in the traditional milk carton boat regatta in Jelgava, Latvia 30 August 2014. 38 teams try to outdo each other building rafts out of milk cartons

Milk float: two men take part in the traditional milk carton boat regatta in Jelgava, Latvia  Photo: EPA

6:58AM BST 21 Oct 2014


SIR – I have always enjoyed “top of the milk” cream on my cereals for breakfast and had milk delivered in a glass bottle until three months ago. My milkman then began delivering the milk in plastic bottles, which changed the flavour – I neither liked the taste, nor was I able to decant the cream from the top.

The explanation given was that the milk I had previously received was no longer available, as it didn’t suit plastic, and milk now had to be not only pasteurised but also homogenised. I have changed to Channel Island milk, but this is also homogenised – so there is still no cream rising to the top for my porridge.

Why are both dairy farmers and consumers being dictated to? No wonder the farmers are receiving less money for their milk.

Christine Ash
Canterbury, Kent

Fame at last

SIR – I wonder how many of your readers eagerly scanned your article featuring previously unpublished letters in the hope of seeing their own submission published there?

I certainly did. It wasn’t.

Mrs Denise Taylor
Glossop, Derbyshire

Perfect pubs

SIR – George Orwell set out 10 attributes of an ideal pub, but there was one that he took for granted.

Over the past year a colleague and I have been carrying out systematic research into what makes for a successful pub. We have found that the critical factor is the active presence of the landlord or landlady. Take this away and even a tavern that has everything going for it in terms of location, architecture and potential clientele will wither on the vine.

Ivor Morgan

SIR – When Paul Moody, who co-wrote the book ‘The Search for the Perfect Pub’, argued that “nobody can be objectionable with a pint in his hand” he proved two things: the gap between academia and reality, and the fact that he has never worked on Fleet Street.

Chris Boffey
London N8

Call me Steve

SIR – I will let Steve Baldock in on a secret: us twenty-somethings find it disconcerting to be addressed by our surnames. The reasons for this are numerous and would undoubtedly make a fascinating anthropological essay.

We do still follow the mantra of “treat others as you wish to be treated”, so in addressing Mr Baldock by his first name his interviewees were just being polite.

Ruth Huneke
Ostrava, Czech Republic

Square digits

SIR – If we were meant to have straight-cut nails, as the scientists at the University of Nottingham have proclaimed, surely we should have been provided with square ends to our fingers in the first place.

Hugh Bebb
Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex

Zac Goldsmith’s blueprint for the power of recall would serve those with vested interestes and big money

Mr Clegg used a speech to call for tighter controls on immigration from new EU states

Nick Clegg: MPs should not sit as judge and jury on themselves Photo: PA

6:59AM BST 21 Oct 2014


SIR – Your editorial “Plans to keep MPs in line are an insult to voters” contained a number of inaccuracies.

In the Coalition Government, it is the Liberal Democrats who have consistently argued for a power of recall to be introduced to apply to those MPs who have committed “serious wrongdoing”. That was always the proposal on the table for legislation in this Parliament, by this Coalition Government.

However, the Conservatives in Government have consistently dragged their feet on this important issue. They originally blocked it being included in the Queen’s Speech this year and it only made it in after an eleventh-hour change of heart from the Prime Minister.

Subsequently, when I have argued for the proposals to be as strong as possible, it has been made abundantly clear that, as one Conservative minister put it: “We [Conservative MPs] would not wear it.”

Putting that to one side, it is right that we now properly debate the details of how recall will work. On principle, I don’t agree with the blueprint put forward by Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith. His is not the people’s recall, it’s the rich man’s recall. It would provide a field day for those with vested interests and big money who don’t like how an MP has voted on controversial issues such as gay marriage, abortion, fox hunting or military action. This would lead to some MPs facing near constant threats of recall.

Members of Parliament can, and absolutely should, be held to account in general elections for how they have voted as MPs. But the recall process should be for those who have indeed committed “serious wrongdoing”. It is right that we now actively consider, as the Recall of MPs Bill is debated in Parliament, the best possible way to define and test “serious wrongdoing”. Liberal Democrat MPs will be bringing forward proposals to ensure that MPs don’t sit as judge and jury on themselves, and I hope they gain support from MPs and parties across the House of Commons.

Nick Clegg MP
Deputy Prime Minister

A fire engine waits below burnt cooling towers at Didcot B Power Station in Didcot  Photo: REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

7:00AM BST 21 Oct 2014


SIR – The closure of Didcot B power station due to a fire could have a serious impact on electricity prices and supplies in an already tight situation.

In the past eight months six large power plants, representing just under 12 per cent of our peak electricity-generating capacity, have closed unexpectedly due to fires or mechanical breakdowns. Even before five of these closures, Ofgem warned that electricity-generating margins could drop below 2 per cent in the winter of 2015/16.

The Government must better incentivise remaining power plant operations, starting by removing the high carbon price floor tax, which could result in the early closure of up to 10 coal-fired power stations over the next five years.

Tony Lodge
Centre for Policy Studies
London SW1

SIR – As an engineer who worked on the design and construction of our nuclear power stations in the Sixties and Seventies, I am deeply concerned that we now rely wholly on foreign expertise and finance for this vital contribution to our energy sector.

With no British alternative, the French company EDF has been lined up for the design, construction and operation of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant and already owns other nuclear power stations in Britain. Not only have we lost this expertise along with the resultant rewards, but we will also pay the price when we use the subsidised energy.

Meanwhile Austria has raised a legal challenge over the European Commission’s decision to approve the plant, so we are faced with a greater delay and increased cost thanks to membership of the EU.

Jim W Barrack
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

SIR – The media and politicians confuse energy with electricity. In Britain, electricity accounts for a mere 26 per cent of our total energy demand, so whether we supply this small proportion from nuclear, coal or renewables is not the main issue. Energy policy must address how we are going to deal, in a sustainable way, with the 41 per cent of our energy demand which is heat and the 33 per cent which is transport.

If Hinkley Point C does produce 7 per cent of our electricity in a decade’s time, it will still only be supplying around 1.8 per cent of our total energy demand – not much to show for the expenditure.

Ian M Arbon
Pinmore, Ayrshire

SIR – Gradually moving away from fossil fuels is one thing, but dashing headlong into shutting down reliable plants before securing viable, affordable alternatives is irresponsible.

Our industrial competitors are not on the same track. New coal-fired power stations are still under construction in Germany and elsewhere, soon to be producing reliable power at a fraction of the cost of our unreliable alternative sources.

Dr Bev Wilkinson

Irish Times:

Sir, – Is Irish Water a public utility or a public futility? – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I recall canvassing in the 1977 general election (for Fianna Fáil) and being certain of an overall majority only two days into the campaign. While I believe the victory was due to a combination of the charisma of Jack Lynch and the sweeteners of the abolition of car tax and rates, the response at the doors was “get them out”.

If the present Government does not renounce Irish Water, and all its works, it will face the same treatment as the 1973-77 coalition. The democratic revolution that they promised has now been taken out of their hands .

Furthermore, the escalation of street politics has its own inherent dangers that should be obvious to all of us on this island. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Given that this overincentivised, overstaffed monopoly has shown itself to be so inefficient even before a single bill has been calculated, perhaps it should be privatised sooner rather than later? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – In recent times, technically astute humans sent a spacecraft to the planet Mars, upon which a remotely controlled vehicle landed, drove about and transmitted data back to Earth. In a year or so another spacecraft will land a probe on a comet and again data will be transmitted to Earth.

Meanwhile back on “planet Irish Water”, a customer wishing to retrieve water usage data will be required to lie on his belly on the footbath, prise open the meter lid and hope that he is lucky enough to have a meter where the digits are visible. Truly installation and operation of water meters is not rocket science. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – The news that some members of staff working for Irish Water will be awarded a performance-related payment even if their performance requires improvement has generated much debate. Politicians and the general public should be aware that a similar scheme has been operating in the public sector for decades. It is called “getting  your increment”. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – And so the saga of how not to set up a company, especially a State-owned company, goes on. The company was set up offering a defective product (charging people for a water supply system that wasn’t properly set up in the first instance – full of leaks), which, if it were a private company offering such a product, would immediately result in political and public uproar. The product was badly costed from the outset; indeed, people were being told for a long time that the costing was still being worked out. What a way for a company to launch a product! Then we learned that it was going to employ more people to deliver the service than was necessary to do so, simply because they had to take over the water systems of the existing local authority councils, which apparently it was known that they didn’t need.

And now we learn that this magnificent monopoly, which it seems can obligate us to pay whatever it decides to charge, is to pay bonuses to staff for doing what they are supposed to be doing! It isn’t as though they will have to go out and sign up new customers – we all have to be their customers, whether we would want to or not. And it seems that bonuses will be paid to people who are deemed to be not working satisfactorily – in a monopoly.

What a hare-brained system and what hare-brained thinking behind its setting-up! – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – The broadcast media habit of asking every Government politician about Irish Water, including views on the tenure of the chief executive, is becoming tedious in the extreme. I wish those politicians would deliver a stock response: “Ask the Minister for the Environment”.

It’s a practice that might well catch on. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – It’s time to shout “Stop!” Irish Water is totally discredited. The final nail in its coffin has been the revelation of the award of bonuses to staff.

When the leaks in the system are repaired, people will be willing to pay a fair charge to the State, provided the service remains in public ownership. This latest quango must be dismantled forthwith. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – When Irish Water was being set-up by the Minister for the Environment, it is inconceivable, and indeed unforgivable, that the salary structures were not set down strictly by the Government. The details of salaries and “performance-related” pay now revealed are staggering to behold for the extremely hard-pressed citizen.

The idea that Irish Water staff with a rating of “performance needs improvement” will be able to avail of a substantial increase is beyond belief. The outcome, of course, will be that the Government will announce that the staff were appointed with this ridiculous pay structure as their “terms and conditions”, their contract, and that this cannot legally be changed. Once more the Government has scored an own goal. What a country! – Yours, etc,



A chara, – The annual cost for water in a family home? Hundreds. Bonuses for water-workers? Thousands. The cost of setting up Irish Water? Millions. The value of all this for the Opposition come the next general election unless there are major changes soon? Priceless. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – What an excellent article by Rev Dr D Twomey, a highly qualified celibate, male, moral theologian, defending celibate, male, moral theology on marriage and the family (“Synod feeds secular agenda hostile to traditional family”, Opinion & Analysis, October 18th). However, celibate male theology has no place in real-life family situations.

As a non-celibate, non-male parent, I challenge Dr Twomey’s theology based on my own experience of raising a large family. If I had adhered to church teaching, particularly Humanae Vitae, my marriage and my family would not have survived. Pope Paul Vl encyclical Humanae Vitae is one of the main causes of the collapse of confession.

Dr Twomey needs to come out of his theological ivory tower and rub shoulders with us sinners. What is at stake for the church is not “holiness”, it is “love”. – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.

Sir, – Congratulations to Fr Vincent Twomey for so eloquently and compassionately expressing the concerns of many Catholics regarding the agenda of some groups in the recent synod.

It’s interesting that Fr Twomey is attacked by Declan Kelly (October 21st) and others for daring to comment due to his vow of celibacy. So much for respect for plurality and diversity of views.

On the basis of this logic, presumably faithful and childless Catholic couples are also debarred from the debate. One only wishes that those opposed to Fr Twomey’s analysis would express themselves in the same civilised and respectful manner that he employs. – Yours, etc,



Co Meath.

Sir, – As scripture says, “the road that leads to perdition is wide an spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). All the Catholic Church can do is light up the narrow road that leads to life.

Some liberal commentators on the synod apparently want the Catholic Church to light up the broad road that leads to perdition instead. That road, however, would still lead to perdition no matter how well lit up it is. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15.

Sir, – If “ordinary men and women” (Seán O’Riordan, October 21st), though sexually faithful and living family-oriented lives, cannot be persuaded to think that responsible artificial contraception family planning is very wrong, perhaps the church and its proponents should settle for two out of three, even if they themselves are somewhat at a remote remove from such actual situations.

Perhaps the essence of the issue is that some people believe as much or more in a faith system than in a deity? –Yours, etc,


Dublin 12.

Sir, – Here we go again. A scandal comes to light, the Robert McCartney killing, the “Disappeared”, the Maíria Cahill story – and we hear the same old defence-strategies being employed by Sinn Féin. Surely they can come up with a better word than “wrong”?

When will voters for this party tumble to the fact that, however in need of reform Northern Ireland was, the campaign of violence of the Provisional IRA has made the situation much worse, for all of us. Senior members of Sinn Féin, of older and newer vintages, have staunchly come to the defence of the party in claiming there was no cover-up within Sinn Féin itself, which is hardly an earth-shattering position to take. How could they be expected to know what went on within the IRA? Surely the whole point of paramilitarism was to keep the left hand guessing what the right hand was doing, hence the dearth of authentic information.This country has been ill-served by “armed struggle” and the sooner this is acknowledged by all, the sooner we can clean out every corner of our reeking stables. – Yours, etc,


Holywood, Co Down.

Sir, – Surely nobody can possibly believe that an institution that enjoys the trust and support of so many Irish people has not only been harbouring alleged sexual abusers in its ranks, but has also attempted to deal with such issues internally and has actively discouraged witnesses from notifying the proper authorities? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 9.

Sir, – I’ve no doubt that the issue of Sinn Féin’s transfer toxicity with the electorate would be ameliorated by a change of leader. The problem for its members, though, is that they seem to be afraid to tell him. – Yours, etc,


Clonsilla, Dublin 15.

Sir, – I was greatly concerned by the views expressed in a recent article (“Students are guinea pigs in Trinity’s experiment”, Education Opinion, October 14th).

I have been dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard for almost 30 years. During that time we – just like other major universities in the United States – have used a holistic admissions system, involving many of the same elements Trinity is testing in this study. Far from being “mumbo jumbo”, and an arcane practice “verging on voodoo”, this approach is recognised as providing a more reliable way of admitting talented students who will excel in their studies and in all their endeavours during college and beyond.

Over the past few years I have watched Trinity’s work with great interest, and have helped support and advise it in its attempts to apply internationally respected indicators to an Irish context. At Harvard every year we run a “Summer Institute” where we discuss the benefits of the use of personal statements and review panels with experts from many nations. They would certainly be surprised by the charges in the article.

Trinity has acted responsibly in running this study on a very small scale, and it is unfortunate to condemn Trinity, one of the most respected universities in the world, for attempting to test something that is seen as standard practice in its peer institutions. – Yours, etc,



Dean of Admissions

and Financial Aid,

Harvard University,



Sir, – In his response to John McAvoy’s welcome and overdue criticism of TCD’s latest admission novelty, Patrick Geoghegan revealingly speaks of the “problem of the points race” (“We stand over our attempt to solve the points problem”, Education Opinion, October 21st).

The points system fairly compares school-leavers by their performance in the national school curriculum and examination system to which everyone has equal access.

Prof Geoghegan speaks of the Leaving Certificate as a “single examination”. It is not. Students are examined in at least seven subjects, including universal subjects English and mathematics and a wide choice of other subjects designed to develop a range of aptitudes and abilities. Universities are involved in school curricular development and reform.

Prof Geoghegan quotes unnamed “international experts” as favouring “holistic” admission systems. The US 2008 Commission on Admission and the UK NFER Report of 2010 both recommended the use of school curricular-based tests for admission rather than non-curricular tests.

Mr McAvoy raised valid questions in relation to the TCD experiment. Who is excluded by it? Can it be “gamed” by wily applicants? How is an applicant expected to prepare for it? Is it fair? The points system is. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 5.

Sir, – Ciaran O’Neill has got it in one (“Paying for privilege”, Education Analysis, October 21st). What fee-paying schools offer is “polish”.

When stripped out for variables such as family and class background, there is no particular evidence that these schools add much educational heft to their customers. Their essential raison d’être is to supply narrow socio-economic ghettos, where PLUs (“people like us”, à la Ross O’Carroll-Kelly) won’t have to mix with hoi polloi.

While Dr O’Neill’s academic emphasis is on Roman Catholic schools, it should be noted that Protestant schools in the Dublin catchment area have benefited considerably from this rush towards the snobbish. Without it, many of these institutions would have simply run out of their traditional customers. As Catholicism as a religious force has weakened, Roman Catholics who seek out PLUs have increasingly turned towards these “Protestant” schools – to the point where their “Protestant” ethos is close to a puzzling anachronism, given that so many of their students, and a very significant proportion of their teachers, are not Protestant, whatever else they may be.

The schools, incidentally, are very coy about making public the breakdown of students and staff by religious denomination, or none. What does that tell us?

Private secondary education is a pernicious purveyor and perpetuator of hereditary class privilege. It should have no place in a modern republic. If it’s good enough for the Finns to do without, it should be good enough for us.

But even if we accept its existence as one price for liberty and freedom of choice, let’s stop the hypocrisy that it has some purely educational value. In that context, it should not be the function of the State to offer it financial support at the expense of citizens who cannot access it. Yours, etc, –


Sidney Sussex College,

Sir, – It is convenient for Facebook if women delay having children, and that is what makes their new policy so unethical (“Facebook offers to freeze eggs of employees”, October 18th). Once employees have children, priorities change and the most important thing in life becomes their child, not their job. By offering to pay $20,000 to freeze eggs, Facebook is sending the message that a woman’s career might be hindered if she decides to have a child earlier rather than later. Multinational corporations should never be involved in the decision about when to start a family. Facebook has been criticised for not having enough female employees, but asking women to freeze their eggs is not the way to keep some of their most valuable workers. A better way to spend $20,000 would be offering better onsite childcare or, maybe more importantly, introducing paternity leave for their male employees. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 1.

Sir, – Olivia Mitchell TD is reported to have claimed that expanding our gene pool through immigration in the Celtic Tiger years has resulted in taller children (“Celtic Tiger gene pool expansion has made us better-looking”, Front Page, October 20th). I think she must be confused because over the same period our politicians have clearly become smaller. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Irish Independent:

So, now we know! The problem with water charges has nothing to do with the exorbitant cost of establishing a new utility to collect additional taxes. The problem has nothing to do with reduction in wages, the property tax, the USC and the general austerity experienced by citizens of this State.

The problem is communication.

Is it beyond the comprehension of government ministers that patient tolerant Paddy may have had enough of political spin.

The management of our economy and society is entrusted to them.

Waste after waste after waste, from electronic voting machines, decentralisation to the HSE, there is little or no control over the cost of capital projects and the general disregard for the stresses and strains imposed on large sectors of society cannot and should not continue.

Management at the higher levels of the public service appear to rely more and more on commissioned reports and to use these, when convenient, to justify their analysis of what needs to be done.

Why bother employing the heads of management at high salary levels when invariably they rely on contracted reports rather than furnishing their own ideas and solutions?

Have our leaders become so impotent that they cannot serve society without the input of ‘independent’ consultants.

‘Yes Minister’ was a comedy programme; but when applied to day-to-day reality it is truly a tragedy.

The transparency of political discourse designed only to minimise losses at the ballot boxes has become so overt that one can only despair at the quality of leadership on offer.

Fred Meaney

Dalkey, Co Dublin


Enough is enough

Well, the fat is well and truly in the fire now. And the enforcer who did Enda’s bidding is well and truly enjoying his reward in Europe.

There is no doubt that the protest meeting of two weeks ago on Dublin’s O’Connell Street has not only spurred the people on, but has frightened the daylights out of the Government.

But, be careful – our politicians are cute and they know that complacency is easily slipped into.

There is a follow-up protest jamboree arranged for November 1, and this has to be the occasion that ensures the Government is convinced that the people mean business.

In 1979, the famous PAYE march on a Thursday was so successful that a super march was arranged for the following Sunday.

Unfortunately, that march had to be cancelled – due to lack of interest.

Make sure that lack of interest is dead and buried and that the Government is left in no doubt as to where the people stand.

This issue has nothing to do with politics.

It is simply the people saying: enough is enough.

RJ Hanly

Screen, Co Wexford

Irish Water – the hard sell

The Government must now be considering the situation of Irish Water.

The demonstrations by the people who elected them speaks volumes.

Equally, the conduct of this entity, Irish Water, must be in question.

The costs associated with its establishment were approved without any consideration of marketing the service to the consumer.

The decision to introduce water costs at the beginning of winter beggars belief, when all it seems to do at this time of year is to rain.

What new start-up would attempt to sell something without a promise of providing a better service.

Irish Water has failed to sell the idea of why there should be water charges of any description.

I, for one, believe that if the Government wishes to proceed with this project, let it place it out to tender as it should have done at the start and stop this insult to the people of Ireland.

Paul Cormican

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16


Tough choices this winter

I am a disabled person. As winter approaches I find myself in the unhappy position of having to choose between food, water, heat or light.

According to my lease if I allow any of these utilities lapse my landlord has the right to turn me out of my privately rented flat, thus plunging me into homelessness. What kind of cruelty prompts government TDs to cross that lobby and vote for one regressive budget after another?

Eileen O’Sullivan

Bray, Co Wicklow


Time can only tell

For those of us old enough to remember – in 1970, we moved from a centralised health system to one of Regional Health Boards. We were told it would take some time for the new system to work properly. It never did.

In 2005, we were told the new centralised HSE would replace the health boards. It too was to improve the system. Has it?

In the Dail, last Thursday, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said that it would take time for the water-management functions of the local authorities to become embedded properly.

Is that a threat or a promise?

John F Jordan

Killiney, Co Dublin


If the tap fits . . .

“This isn’t a company, it’s a monster!”

I’m reminded of the comment by Deputy US Marshal Samuel Gerard (a memorable Tommy Lee Jones) in the 1993 movie ‘The Fugitive’ on discovering the financial turnover of the fictional pharma corporation, Devlin MacGregor.

Emerging behemoths please note. If the tap fits . . .

Oliver McGrane

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16


Stranger on a train

“Tickets, cheers.”

The female ticket inspector on the Connolly to Belfast (Enterprise) train on Monday had a smile and manner to brighten any morning. Indeed, just the ticket!

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9


Return of the chamber pot

The return to popularity of the pot under the bed in order to save water – as predicted by so many – may have one positive consequence.

It will, at last, justify referring to the Seanad as the upper chamber!

Brendan Casserly

Bishopstown, Cork


Thoughts for the homeless

Winter is coming our way, its frosty fingers will soon be sending shivers through the country.

These are tough times for most, but for the homeless there are no words to describe the helplessness and loneliness of a night on the street.

We should remember people like Brother Kevin and Fr McVeigh, who actually try and do something for those the State has either forgotten about or failed. Their efforts could be the difference between survival or a bleak end as the dark cold nights close in.

TG Gavin

Dalkey, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

Flu Jab

October 21, 2014

21 October 2014 Flu Jab

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day Flu Jab, Post Office, Co Op, District Nurses and Sharland

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Sir John Hoskyns – obituary

Sir John Hoskyns was a Downing Street adviser who called Mrs Thatcher a bully and almost provoked a libel suit from Brussels

Sir John Hoskyns

Sir John Hoskyns Photo: ITN/REX

5:51PM BST 20 Oct 2014


Sir John Hoskyns, who has died aged 87, was a caustic critic of what he called “the inbred political establishment” as a senior adviser to Mrs Thatcher and, later, director-general of the Institute of Directors.

A restless man, Hoskyns never seemed able, in a career that also spanned the Army and business, to settle for more than a few years in one job. By instinct an outsider, he was least happy when forced to be part of an establishment. As a political thinker he always went for the radical option, claiming that “if you think the unthinkable, a few years later it will become the conventional wisdom”.

His period of greatest political influence was between 1979 and 1982, when, as head of the Downing Street Policy Unit, he played a major role in planning legislation to restrict the power of the trade unions. He also advised Mrs Thatcher on domestic policy, economic strategy, public sector pay and nationalised industries. Although he failed to persuade her to reverse the Clegg proposals for high public sector pay increases, he was a powerful influence in setting the critical 1981 budget, with its emphasis on lower interest rates and reduced public borrowing.

But Hoskyns had little taste for the sort of compromises that are part and parcel of political leadership and he became increasingly unhappy at Downing Street, eventually departing on less than good terms with the prime minister. He had become fed up with the ways of Whitehall and, as Charles Moore revealed in the first volume of his authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher, published last year, he had become disillusioned with her style of leadership too.

In the summer of 1981 Hoskyns wrote a blistering memo headed “Your political survival” and popped it into Mrs Thatcher’s red box before she went on holiday. Breathtakingly candid, it contained such gems as “you lack management competence… you break every rule of good man-management… you bully your weaker colleagues… You criticise colleagues in front of each other… They can’t answer back without appearing disrespectful… You abuse that situation. You give little praise or credit, and you are too ready to blame others when things go wrong.” He warned her that if she did not change she was “going the way of Ted Heath”.

Later Hoskyns said the memo had highlighted how as early as 1981 “the seeds of her downfall were being sown”, although he appeared to have reached a more nuanced view of her achievements. “Most people would acknowledge that Thatcher saved the British economy,” he conceded in 2009, “but, my God, didn’t we hate her while she was doing it.’’

John Austin Hungerford Leigh Hoskyns was born on August 23 1927 and educated at Winchester. His father, a lieutenant-colonel in the regular Army, was killed at Calais during the retreat from France in 1940, and in the last days of the Second World War young Hoskyns took an impulsive decision to leave school and enlist in the Rifle Brigade as a private.

The war finished before he saw action, but he remained in the Army, rising to the rank of captain, and did see some fighting in Kenya, which he described as “not for real”.

Eventually, frustrated by endless Nato manoeuvres, he joined IBM in 1957 as the firm was establishing a base in Britain. Seven years later he left to form his own computer company, which took advantage of the software boom.

He sold out in 1974 for £400,000 to devote himself to his developing interest in solving the problems of the nation’s decline.

Though by no means an ideological Tory — he had voted Labour on occasion — Hoskyns was introduced to Mrs Thatcher by Sir Alfred Sherman, head of the Right-wing Centre for Policy Studies, and became her adviser on trade union matters while the Conservative Party was in opposition.

Among other things he co-authored Stepping Stones, a 1977 paper which analysed the interconnected ailments of the British economy. To explain to himself the nature of Britain’s problem he constructed a “wiring diagram” of the economy’s difficulties, all of which combined in a sort of chain reaction to make each other worse. His conclusion was simple: to cure anything, it would be necessary to change everything. “It is not difficult to carry the country,” Angus Maude, the chairman of the Conservative Research Department, told him at the time. “The problem is the shadow Cabinet.”

After the Conservatives won the 1979 election, Hoskyns became head of Mrs Thatcher’s Policy Unit, but his time in Downing Street confirmed his intense dislike of the political and Whitehall establishment, which he seemed to take an almost perverse pleasure in riling. In his memoir, Just in Time (2000), he complained that civil servants could only function “by cultivating a passionless detachment, as if the processes they were engaged in were happening in a faraway country which they service only on a retainer basis”.

After resigning in April 1982 he retreated to his home in Essex, indulging his love of shooting and opera-going while loosing off periodic salvoes against the political classes, which found favour with the businessmen at the Institute of Directors, where he was appointed director-general in 1984.

The job suited Hoskyns. Unlike his counterpart at the CBI, who has to reflect the corporate consensus (Hoskyns had been considered as a candidate for that post in 1979), the director-general of the IoD is allowed far greater freedom. Rank-and-file members greeted with rapture his call for civil servants to be replaced by “politically appointed officials on contract at proper market rates”. They warmed to his constant reminders to Mrs Thatcher of the need to dismantle the corporate state and reduce the burden on business, and for the government to set a long term goal of reducing tax rates to 10 per cent.

Hoskyns earned his biggest headlines shortly before his departure from the IoD in 1989, when he launched a vitriolic attack on the EEC which, he claimed, had become a “Mafia-style laughing stock”, with expense-fiddling MEPs and Eurocrats “as self-important as the British trade union barons were in the late 1970s”. There were “signs that the Brussels machine is becoming corrupted both intellectually and financially”, and as a result the creation of the Single European Market could prove a “collectivised, protectionist, over-regulated” fiasco.

The reaction in Brussels was furious, and at one point the European Commission even threatened to sue him for libel. Hoskyns himself likened the fuss to that over Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses: “No one is allowed to criticise Europe,” he complained. “It is like criticising Islam. If anyone says anything against Europe they will be outlawed.”

Friends, however, found Hoskyns’s combative reputation difficult to reconcile with the civilised and courteous private man.

After his retirement from the IoD, Hoskyns served as chairman of the Burton Group from 1990 to 1998, of the media company Emap from 1994 to 98 and of the Arcadia Group in 1998.

He was knighted in 1982.

He married, in 1956, Miranda Mott, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.

Sir John Hoskyns, born August 23 1927, died October 20 2014


Jose Manuel Barroso speech on Europe José Manuel Barroso in London, 20 Octobe 2014, to make the case for staying in the EU. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

The European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, is right to warn that those in favour of the European Union must not expect by default to carry the day, nor should they leave presenting the positive case for EU until the last moment in a spirit of panic, as happened in Scotland (Report, 20 October).

He might also reflect that the Better Together campaign in Scotland wasn’t able to halt the significant momentum generated by the exit lobby. That only happened by external intervention: the belated acknowledgement by those outside Scotland of the core separatist concerns, irritations and resentments, together with a degree of humility in the face of a large democratic groundswell, all sweetened by the offering of substantial, significant and credible concessions. David Cameron is simply not in a position to offer these in respect of Europe, any more than Alistair Darling was in respect of Scotland.

The tone of Mr Barosso’s intervention will have a wearily familiar ring to it for those who followed the Better Together pronouncements in the early days. If lessons are indeed to be learned from the Scottish referendum, those in Brussels and Strasbourg have at least as much to reflect on as folk in London or Edinburgh.
Rev Jonathan Jennings
Gillingham, Kent

• You report that Nigel Farage welcomes José Manuel Barroso’s comments on the free movement of people within the EU because they show clearly that David Cameron’s objectives are unachievable. It seems to me, however, that Barroso’s comments are just as problematical for Ukip. Barroso was not just talking about the rules of the EU but about the rules of the single market (the “four freedoms” of movement of goods, services, capital and people). Countries currently outside the EU that participate in the single market (Norway and Switzerland) have to accept the free movement of people – as Barroso says, this is absolutely fundamental. Ukip’s position, however, is that the UK could leave the EU, continue to participate in a free market and at the same time refuse to accept the free movement of people. Barroso tells us this is just as impossible outside the EU as it is within.
Michael Matthews

• David Cameron’s demand for a halt to the free flow of EU migrants will wrongfoot both Labour and the Greens. The way out of this electoral trap is for these non-market-fundamentalist parties, who nevertheless support Europe’s free flow of people, to change course. They should make an end to uncontrollable EU immigration central to their manifestos, not because of Ukip but to show that they are truly democratic, that they want to lessen the strain on public services and to burnish their internationalist credentials.

Democratic, because all polls show that the majority of people want to see the flow of immigrants to the UK adequately controlled. The UK’s population is projected to increase by 10 million in the next 25 years. Failure to see these population pressures as making it much harder to tackle social problems insults voters’ intelligence. Finally, the present EU open borders policy is the opposite of internationalism. Romania has in recent years lost a third of its doctors to richer EU countries, and our hospitals scour poor EU countries to fill the gap in our inadequately resourced NHS.
Colin Hines
Twickenham, Middlesex

• The claim that migrants are net contributors to the public purse is demography’s equivalent of off-balance-sheet financing, for today’s young migrants will become tomorrow’s old and infirm (Editorial, 17 October). A similar claim that newcomers will do society’s menial jobs is like a Ponzi scheme, for increasing numbers of unskilled immigrants will be needed as the offspring of today’s unskilled immigrants shun menial jobs offering less than a living wage.

Then there is the claim that national debt will become unmanageable without mass immigration, yet the recent ballooning of national debt coincided with an unprecedented influx of migrants.

It was morally wrong to import cheap labour with the aim of driving down unskilled wages. Reversing the process by controlling immigration from within an ever-expanding EU will result in a transfer of purchasing power from the haves to the have-nots, as menial jobs that cannot be outsourced abroad become more costly. This is a small price to pay for anyone concerned about national cohesiveness and a living wage.
Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

• Your otherwise admirably balanced editorial column overlooks one of the wider implications of immigration for the UK – that of food security. England was already one of the most densely populated countries in the developed world before the arrival of large numbers of European immigrants. The increase in the number of people and the diminishing supply of agricultural land means that our dependence on food imports is growing. This makes us vulnerable to the vagaries of international commodity markets, a situation exacerbated by the growth in world population and the adoption of western dietary habits by recently industrialised countries such as China and India. The laws of supply and demand indicate that the cost of food imports will inevitably rise, with possible ramifications for social cohesion. And in the event of future international instability our supply of imported food could be threatened altogether, with wholly unpredictable consequences. Policymakers need to embark on strategy to limit the UK’s population and increase the supply of agricultural land. The first step is to regain control of who can enter the country by withdrawing from the EU.
Terence Glover
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

• The free movement of labour made sense when the EU membership was restricted to the west European countries. Would Poland, Bulgaria and Romania have joined if there was no free movement of labour option available? Would Ukraine, Georgia and Moldavia, which recently signed on the dotted line, still be interested if the clause pertaining to free movement of labour was removed from the Lisbon treaty?
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

• Citizens of EU countries are entitled to each others’ social systems when living and working there. We all have some sort of national insurance that people pay into in their countries and this entitles us to use theirs and them to use ours. Admittedly, what is available varies according to the wealth of the country, but Holland, Sweden and France, for instance, have more generous systems than ours. We should not blame immigrants for the fact that successive British governments for the past 30 years have failed socially on many fronts, particularly housing.
Katerina Porter

• There are estimated to be up to two million UK citizens living in the EU but outside UK. It is reasonable to assume that if the UK leaves the EU, the position of these citizens will be adversely affected. As a minimum, by loss of access to healthcare, and perhaps through difficulty in obtaining work permits, and even elderly people needing to repatriate.
Martin Ray
Banbury, Oxfordshire

• If fruit pickers from Romania are not to be allowed to work in the UK (Conservative backs Ukip view, 17 October), who will pick the fruit? British workers certainly don’t and won’t.
Charles Foster
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

You report (Watchdog to pursue inquiry into sex sting against MP Brooks Newmark, 20 October) that one of the MPs targeted by the Sunday Mirror’s freelance journalists in the online “sexting” sting, Mark Pritchard, has withdrawn his complaint against the Sunday Mirror. The details of the “amicable settlement” are said to be confidential. The Independent Press Standards Organisation says “we would be pleased if it were the case that resolution has been achieved, since that would be a success for the Ipso complaints process”.

We should be concerned when a newspaper makes a secret deal with an MP (possibly involving a financial settlement or the offer of future good publicity) behind the back of the regulator. We should be especially concerned if the result of the secret deal is that the MP drops his complaint, possibly preventing the regulator getting the full truth. If the regulator considers that a regulatory “success”, then the main difference between the new sham regulator Ipso and the failed and toothless PCC, which it replaced, is now clear. Ipso, it seems, is rather more desperate in both its propaganda and spin operation.
Joan Smith
Executive editor, Hacked Off

• You report (20 October) that internet trolls will face two years in jail under Chris Grayling’s new plans. How will “internet troll” be defined? As a person who makes any comment which offends anyone? An ordinary person who “shouts” to be heard in a conversation dominated by famous or influential people? Social media should be available for the use of all society, not just its upper echelon. Of course, if someone makes a credible threat of violence against another person, that should be prosecuted through existing laws. But the proposed new laws imply that social media will be limited to well-known and powerful people giving us their view of the world (and promoting their latest product, film, etc), while the rest of us can only “follow” our favourites.

We would be powerless to tell Russell Brand or Jeremy Clarkson or Polly Toynbee what we really thought of them, because of the inevitable offence caused. By posting a message saying “I bought your book but didn’t like it”, an ordinary person would not be heard. By posting a message saying “I spent eight hours of my life reading your faeces recycled as paper. I am going to torture you for eight hours in return”, that same person will be noticed, but will be banged up for two years for being offensive and threatening (even though it is obvious that the threat is not credible).
Dominic Rayner

Guide dog. Allowed in Tesco: guide dogs. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

In your report (18 October) that Tesco at Swiss Cottage had refused entry to a woman with a guide dog, a Tesco spokesperson says: “We do allow guide dogs in stores.” Someone should alert Tesco that they do not “allow” guide dogs; they are required by law to facilitate anyone with a guide dog while that dog is on duty. (Though not if it is out of harness.) Too many restaurants, shops, taxis and pubs think they are doing someone a favour if they allow in a guide dog, whereas the truth is they can be subject to a fine if they refuse. Having said that, a friend who is blind, knowing I was going to write this letter, wants me to point out that in the Tesco at Turnpike Lane the staff go out of their way to help her, and go soppy over her dog.
Francis Blake

Smethwick council house building The Council House, Smethwick, West Midlands. Photograph: Alamy

Stuart Jeffries (The most racist election campaign ever fought in Britain, G2, 15 October) does a disservice to Smethwick, the town where I grew up. The Conservative candidate’s campaign in 1964 was vile, but the remote and patrician Patrick Gordon Walker did not lose the seat for Labour because the electors suddenly went racist. He lost because a Liberal candidate intervened and took more votes from Labour than from the Conservatives. Indeed, the Conservative vote actually went down, despite a higher turnout. Such racist activity as there was at that time was largely carried out by neo-Nazi agitators from surrounding areas.
Emeritus professor Keith Graham
Bristol University

• I was 10 in 1964. I remember racist Tory MP Peter Griffiths’s victory tour stopping outside our council house. Stuart Jeffries catches the flavour of a time when casual and overt racism was ingrained in many Britons. However, he underplays the role of the white working-class Labour activists (like my father, Ron, a Smethwick councillor from 1966) who, working with people of goodwill from all races, helped rescue Smethwick from the racists. There is also no tribute paid to Andrew Faulds, the MP to 1997, who defeated Griffiths in the 1966 election. Faulds was uncompromisingly anti-racist and his campaign and victory put Smethwick on course to a wiser, more inclusive politics.

As we know from UKIP’s rise, 50 years on, the context and language changes, but these are battles we still need to fight.
Cllr Phil Davis

• Peter Griffiths ran a racist campaign but, leafletting for Labour, the complaint I heard was of Harold Wilson assuming Smethwick was a safe seat for Patrick Gordon Walker as he wanted him for his cabinet and ignoring more local candidates. Only two years later Labour won back Smethwick with Andrew Faulds and it has remained Labour since, with both Faulds and later John Spellar bucking the trend through majority Tory governments.
Rob Morrish
Oldbury, West Midlands

Souk, in Marrakesh, Morocco Marrakesh, Morocco. Photograph: Alamy

I can only feel sympathy and solidarity with Ray Cole and his partner (Report, 17 October). It must have been a horrific and frightening experience. But as an openly gay man who has travelled more than 20 times to Morocco in the last decade (often with my partner), it seems useful to make some things clear to other lesbian and gay travellers. 1) Male homosexuality is, theoretically, illegal in Morocco. However, the law is not imposed frequently. 2) Homosexuality is an accepted part of Moroccan culture and has been for centuries. Most ordinary people are not hostile if you respect local customs (discretion, not pursuing underage boys etc). In addition, extreme Islamism is very rare in Morocco. 3) The whole state apparatus in Morocco has problems with corruption. This means that officials, including police, can act for personal motives – of power, money or religion – without much regard for legal niceties. I have mostly found warm and open acceptance from ordinary Moroccan people as a gay man. Indeed, sometimes I have been pleasantly surprised: such as when the Moroccan-owned riad where we stay upgraded us to the best suite of rooms for free, on hearing that we had just had a civil partnership. So, I think the best advice is to be streetwise: bear in mind you are in a Muslim country where homosexuality is, at least in theory, illegal. Get to know the local people and their views (some places are much more religious than others). In most cases, I believe that you will have a friendly and relaxed experience.
Patrick Baker
Lecturer in Politics, Goldsmiths, London


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (20 October) is probably right that Russell Brand is a “dilettante”. But he challenges the status quo and stands up for those who are on its sharp end, like the young mothers in Newham.

So he strikes a chord with tens of thousands of young – and older – people. Does anyone think that a book by Ed Miliband, who can’t even bring himself to support strike action by teachers or nurses, would fly off the shelves like Revolution is doing?

Alibhai-Brown is appalled that Brand won’t vote. Yet we all know that millions will abstain in the general election next year. Why? Because there is nothing to choose between the policies of three, now four, pro-big-business parties.

We need a party for the men and women who aren’t part of the corporate elite, a party for trade unionists, NHS users, pensioners, the low-paid, immigrants and young people who need decent jobs and homes. When there’s a real choice, and a chance to make a difference, you’ll get high turnouts, as we saw in Scotland’s referendum.

Nobody I know is sitting around “awaiting the revolution”. We’re defending services, fighting cuts, striking for a living wage, standing in elections as anti-cuts candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), offering people an alternative. We got 10 per cent in Salford last year. If we had PR we’d have a councillor or two.

Alibhai-Brown’s “institutional overhaul” of Parliament won’t bring them flocking to the polling stations – but a clear stand and a socialist alternative is like a breath of fresh air for the disenfranchised.

Paul Gerrard

Chair, Salford against Cuts, Manchester

Edward Collier (letter, 17 October) asks: “In what parallel universe is it fair that it takes 33,000 votes to return one Labour MP and 120,000 for a Lib Dem and 285,000 for a Green?” It was the system that delivers this inequity that a large majority of people actually voted for in a referendum.

I personally regret that decision, but I accept that it is the democratic will of our people, expressed in a referendum where every vote was equal.

Pete Rowberry

Saxmundham, Suffolk


Freudian slip raises a real question

There is something desperate about Ed Miliband’s outrage over Lord Freud’s case of foot-in-mouth.

He must know that this is not an issue that can be just harrumphed away. As a society, we have to look at the situation honestly. Nobody should be discriminated against, but if we want disabled people to participate in economic activity, we have to recognise that they cannot make the same contribution as an able-bodied person. It’s a big ask to expect an employer to take on a disabled person at the same wage as an able-bodied person.

The solution is for the welfare system to make up the difference. Such a policy would be perfectly acceptable to disabled people, and less of a burden on the Treasury than paying a full disability allowance.

What’s astonishing is that the Government doesn’t seem to see that – and David Cameron couldn’t spot a prime opportunity to steal Ed Miliband’s thunder.

Simon Prentis



A huge concern making billions can reasonably be expected to employ a proportion of disabled people at its own expense. A smaller outfit could be damaged by having an employee who, through no fault of their own, was less than optimally productive; in such a case it could be to the benefit of the firm, the disabled employee and society at large for the taxpayer to contribute towards their payment.

That was possibly the point that Lord Freud was trying to make. But he made it badly, and should not be a spokesman for that reason.

He may, however, have done us all a service in raising the issue of “worth”. It could be said that no one is worth more than, say, 20 times the living wage. But many are paid vastly more than that and it is their worth that needs to be challenged.

Susan Alexander

Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

The welfare minister claimed some disabled people are not worth the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour and that he’d think about how those unfortunates who might wish to work for £2 an hour might be helped to do so.

A Freudian slip or another Tory “reform” in the offing? The mindset of this divided old political party – the oldest in Europe – is as revolting as it is revealing towards the end of this parliament, no matter how artfully disguised at the beginning.

They’re out of touch, out of time –and out of here soon if there’s to be any fairness at all about politics.

John Haran

Leigh-on-Sea, Essex


Theatre of the absurd

I warmly applaud Adrian Hamilton’s article on the current theatrical fashion to rewrite or traduce plays that are part of the European classical canon (15 October). However, he omitted to mention the mauling British dramatists have received at such hands.

In a recent National Theatre production of what was claimed to be Marlowe’s Edward II the audience was greeted with a cast dressed in bomber jackets, all smoking furiously and constantly on mobile phones. Scenes were added that are not in the Marlowe text and much that is was omitted.

The nadir of this production, to me, was the scene where Edward’s court celebrated his Pyrrhic victory over the barons by waving plastic swords and dancing the hokey-cokey accompanied by an electric keyboard player on stage.

I certainly do not wish for museum theatre, but production companies must be more honest with theatre-goers. They should announce that this is Ms X’s or Mr Y’s version of Oedipus, Medea or Edward II and omit the names of Sophocles, Euripides or Marlowe from their publicity. But that might not generate the same ticket sales.

Dr Mick Morris

Hamilton, Lanarkshire


For the second time in recent months I have walked out of a London theatre because of a play’s continuous and unnecessary foul language.

Needless to say I was denied a refund of my ticket price. As I bought my ticket at the box office just before the start of the matinee performance I could not have been aware of the vile content.

Have other theatre goers also been caught out like this, and is it not time all prospective audiences were warned about such disgusting content? In future I will check before buying tickets, assuming I ever consider risking attending another London theatre venue.

Adrian Appley

Bromley, Kent


John Walsh is quite right in advocating the abolition of tiresome theatre intervals (16 October). However, I would request one exception – the Royal Opera House.

Much of the seating at this ludicrously expensive venue is unfit for humans (battery chickens spring to mind) and 30 minutes is about all I can bear on the rare occasions that I find myself being “entertained” there.

David Bracey

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire


Now, the three-day passport

Beverley Southgate (letter, 9 October) lavished well-deserved praise on the Passport Office after receiving her passport five working days after applying.

Who can beat this? I applied for my passport renewal on 6 October and received my new one on 9 October – after three working days! My congratulations to both the Passport Office and the Post Office.

Whatever new brooms, prunings or decapitations were necessary to achieve such high standards of public service efficiency, pray that they may soon be mobilised to thin out the dead wood in our NHS.

Ben Marshall

London N11


Housing help for the super-rich

Labour proposes a “mansion tax”. This will tax out middle-class Londoners who bought their houses more than 30 years ago and are now coming into retirement on modest pensions. How will that benefit any housing crisis other than that of the very wealthy wanting central London properties?

When the middle classes got driven out of Manhattan in the 1980s it became a ghetto for the super-rich and a once thriving and diverse cultural scene has been reduced to fighting for the best opera seats and to-be-seen-in restaurants.

Stephane Duckett

London SEII


Ebola or not, we need Heathrow

Nigel Long (letter, 16 October) moves away from a sensible discussion about Ebola to confuse the debate about Heathrow.

It is not airline and airport operator profits driving the need for growth but the long-term interests of current and future generations who will be affected by a decline in our international standing if Heathrow’s hub status is allowed to decline further.

Simon King

Twickenham, Middlesex


Is Ed Miliband’s new pledge designed simply to achieve the greatest vote-winning impact?

Sir, The two-week pathway for urgent referrals is well established in the NHS and is working well (“Miliband promises 7-day test for cancer”, Oct 18). A plethora of “red flag” symptoms include a breast lump, and blood in urine, stool or sputum. Cancer is detected in less than 10 per cent of patients referred, and there is no evidence of improved survival.

Changing from a 14-day to a 7-day referral pathway is an opportunistic and naive gimmick that reveals a lack of understanding. No cancer goes from curable to incurable in seven days. Early diagnosis will only contribute to improved survival if cancer is detected at an earlier stage. This can only be achieved by screening asymptomatic patients, as happens now with breast and colo-rectum cases.

Professor J Meirion Thomas, FRCS
London SW3

Sir, Cancer comprises thousands of individual diseases affecting virtually every part of the body. Each presents and is diagnosed in its own way by applying disease-specific testing which can vary from quick and simple to long and complex. It will therefore be impossible for Labour to fulfil its pledge of guaranteeing every suspected cancer case is diagnosed within a week.

What the NHS will be able to achieve, with new funding, is to increase the overall rate of cancer detection by concentrating on simple tests for common cancers.

Conclusion: Labour’s pledge has deliberately been spun from the specific to the general for greatest vote-winning impact.

Dr Gordon Brooks
Gosport, Hants

Sir, Instead of pledging a seven-day test for cancer in order to increase his popularity before the next election, Ed Miliband and the other party-political leaders should concentrate on explaining how the huge funding gap for the NHS will be addressed.

While working unpaid as a medical examiner for the Royal College of Physicians last weekend at a hospital in another part of the country, I witnessed a further example of the resource-starved NHS. In two of the rooms where the postgraduate examinations were conducted I saw cracks in the walls that were wide enough to see and hear what was happening in the next room. We need the assurance of our government that the necessary increase in funds will be identified to meet the increasing demands for safe and effective healthcare while removing the pay freeze for NHS staff.

Dr Peter Phillips
Consultant Physician
Ipswich, Suffolk

Sir, It is absurd for the political parties to conduct a bidding war for new untested ‘targets’ for the already overburdened NHS. Health service managers should not be forced to chase topical targets at the expense of the health needs of individuals. A cultural rather than an organisational change to an integrated person-centred approach is overdue in the NHS, where real savings can be made and the needs of the individual person can properly addressed.

James Appleyard, FRCP
President, International College of Person Centred Medicine, New York

Many parents will not have the means to start saving for university from the birth of their child

Sir, There are two significant flaws in the idea that “children should start saving for university at birth” (Oct 20). First, it is likely that the vast majority of parents who did not themselves go to university will not see the need set up a saving account (let alone fund it). Second, for most parents the costs of bringing up their children often means that they are financially challenged, and would not be able to fund the account.

There is a need for debate on how a university education should be funded, but this is not the solution.

Alistair Nicoll


What matters more than homosexuality to ordinary Catholics is the Church’s stance on divorcees

Sir, There has been a predictable concentration on the Pope’s humanity towards homosexuals in the face of huge hostility in some parts of the world (“When in Rome, think of gay people in Iran”, Libby Purves, Opinion, Oct 20, and World, Oct 20).

What matters more to the ordinary Catholic in the pew is the position of divorced Catholics, which was also discussed by the Vatican synod. A person who has been divorced, whether willingly or not, is denied the Sacraments. I know people who faithfully come to church each Sunday but may not receive Holy Communion because of their status. People who bring up their children as Catholics, take them to church and send them to Catholic schools, are treated as outcasts cut off from the healing grace of the Eucharist.

Not such a great headline-grabber perhaps, but a source of great pain to many families throughout the land.

Anne Crew

Dundraw, Cumbria

Sir, It was not a surprise that Pope Francis’s progressive proposals on gays and divorcees were rejected, as the vast majority of the bishops voting were appointed by his arch-conservative predecessors John Paul and Benedict. Even if the issue is revisited next year, this will remain the case.

George Healy

London N16

Sir, Can Vincent Nichols really not remember how he voted a few days ago at a Vatican synod on the attitude of the church towards gay people (News, Oct 20)? Such amnesia is understandable in a politician, football manager or used-car salesman, but not in a cardinal.

Frank Greaney

Formby, Liverpool

Converting cruise ships is not the answer. The offshore oil and gas industry may offer a solution

Sir, I disagree with Nicholas Messinger (letter, Oct 18) that cruise ships should be turned into West Africa hospital ships. These ships have vast public spaces which would be of little use and would later be seen as plague ships, and thus prove unusable for the role for which they were designed.

The offshore oil and gas industry has a number of accommodation vessels of various kinds. These include large pontoon-type barges, jack-up and semi-submersible accommodation rigs and elderly but serviceable converted passenger ships. They can be swiftly transported to site on the decks of semi-submersible heavy lift ships, a number of which are owned in the Netherlands.

Peter Adams (master mariner)

Lambley, Notts

Sir, My surgical colleague Wylie Gibbs (letter, Oct 18) suggests copper-impregnated surgical gowns to reduce ebola virus risk because they are bactericidal. We physicians know that bactericidal is not necessarily viricidal. Antibiotics are a case in point.

Giles Youngs, FRCP

Drinkstone, Suffolk

How the Treason Act has been deployed since its enactment in 1351 offers significant food for thought

Sir, Further to your report “Jihadists threatened with trials for treason” (Oct 17), it is true that wielding the 1351 treason law would be a legal sledgehammer. But it is not a wholly obsolete idea. The treason law was employed well into the 20th century, notably in the cases of Roger Casement and William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) when both were charged with adhering to the king’s enemies. The case against Joyce, cleverly manipulated in 1946 to secure a conviction, was precisely based on the fact that he had used a British passport and therefore owed allegiance to the state in return for state protection.

Under the 1351 Act, the British jihadists might also be guilty of “levying war” and of “compassing the Queen’s death” by threating to attack the British state. But it is the precedent from the Joyce case which gives most food for thought. It makes us analyse what loyalty is really owed to the state by each citizen, and how best to police that loyalty to ensure the security of the whole community.

Mark Cornwall

Professor of modern European history, University of Southampton


Ripe for poaching: damsons on branches Photo: Alamy

6:55AM BST 20 Oct 2014


SIR – John H Stephen shouldn’t waste his damsons on gin: they make the most wonderful wine.

Mulled with spices and a dash of brandy and then warmed up, it is the one thing guaranteed to bring our children from the four corners of the world home for Christmas.

Ian Macleod
Whitchurch, Shropshire.

SIR – In the search for an autumn tipple, may I refer Mr Stephen to a letter from a Rosie Macdonald of Bury St Edmunds five years back, which is pasted into my recipe book. Damson vodka has a cleaner taste, is excellent in a hip flask or with champagne, and easier to make than damson jam.

I converted Granny Streat’s sloe gin recipe and it seems to work: half a bottle of vodka, filled to the three-quarter mark with granulated sugar and to the top with damsons (pricked with a silver fork), plus a drop or two of almond essence. I’ll leave you to work out how to get large damsons into the neck of your average vodka bottle. Lay the bottles on their side and rotate daily until the sugar is dissolved.

Caroline Streat
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – My suggestion for an alternative to sloe gin is “brisky” (bramble whisky). Just substitute blackberries for the sloes and whisky for gin. Keep for several months and then imbibe.

Jenny Clarke
Wittersham, Kent

SIR – Damson gin is fine; damson vodka is better. Raspberry whisky is better still.

My favourite tipple involves 1lb marmalade (preferably home-made), one bottle of gin and a quarter-pound of sugar, kept warm for two weeks and drunk after three months. It’ll blow your socks off.

David Davies
Welshpool, Montgomeryshire

Photo: ALAMY

6:56AM BST 20 Oct 2014


SIR – I am often bemused at the level of opposition to inheritance tax. The tax, and its forerunner, death duties, are historically more responsible than any other single activity for enabling the middle classes to own their own home.

When I was a solicitor I became aware of many large landholdings formerly owned by one person that had been sold in the Twenties to pay death duties, allowing for several hundred houses to be built on that land. I am now a vicar in a village that was entirely owned by the Lord of the Manor until death duties led to sales. Now the great majority of the houses are owned by their occupiers.

Any society that lays claim to be more than just the sum of its individuals has a moral duty to ensure some redistribution, while respecting the right of individuals to accumulate wealth. Inheritance tax is a key tool in maintaining that balance.

Revd Peter Dyson
Upton Grey, Hampshire

GPs’ weekend pay

SIR – It used to be accepted that professionals did not have fixed hours of work, and that their pay reflected that. Now we learn that doctors are being paid £100 per hour to work at weekends.

My wife is a deputy head teacher at a secondary school, and she is certainly paid less than doctors. Yet she is at her school for 11 hours a day on “normal” days – that is, unless there are one of many imperative reasons to stay late, such as governors’ or parents’ meetings. She frequently does not get to bed before midnight, and although she has Saturdays for recreation, she works on Sunday evenings preparing for the next week.

How can it be fair that doctors are given these fantastic sums to work “out of hours”, and how are such hours agreed?

Roger Strong
Orpington, Kent

The scourge of Africa

SIR – Fraser Nelson is absolutely right in pointing out that malaria is a terrible scourge in Africa, as it is in several Third World tropical countries.

One aggravating factor behind this in recent years has been the widespread use of plastic carrier bags. Discarded in their thousands, these bags easily fill with rainwater, whereupon they can act as a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying the malaria virus.

Ted Shorter
Tonbridge, Kent

First-name terms

SIR – I have just spent much of last week interviewing eager souls for positions in our company. All were intelligent and qualified, yet every one of them insisted on the regular use of my first name: “Well, that’s a very good point, Steve”; and “If I may answer that, Steve.”

I subscribe to the joys of equality and bonding, but am I wrong to find this somewhat disrespectful, and how do I politely encourage them to desist?

Steve Baldock
Handcross, West Sussex

Hands to the sky

SIR – Watching the extravagant arm movements of the weather person on ITV yesterday, I have no idea what to expect from the skies over the coming days. But I’m certain that there must be a corps de ballet out there short of a Dying Swan.

Felicity Foulis Brown
Bramley, Hampshire

It is unfair to persecute dogs for canine behaviour like growling at the postman

Elke Vogelsang's dog portraiture

‘Expecting a dog never to bark when playing is like expecting a cat not to miaow ‘ Photo: © Elke Vogelsang

6:58AM BST 20 Oct 2014


SIR – The “dogbo” order to be placed on owners’ dogs who bark or growl at the postman and other passers-by has its priorities wrong.

Expecting a dog never to bark when playing is like expecting a cat not to miaow or a child never to yell. Also, a dog can bark when it feels frightened by aggressive behaviour – someone shouting or waving a stick at it, for instance.

Sophie Palmer
Twickenham, Middlesex

SIR – If a dog that chases a cat can get a “dogbo”, what about a cat that kills a bird? Georgie Helyer
Hanging Langford, Wiltshire

Slow past Stonehenge

SIR – As a regular user of the A303, I am surprised to see that the Government is about to approve plans for a tunnel to ease the bottlenecks caused by “drivers slowing down to admire the prehistoric monument” (report, October 18).

While there is no doubt that drivers are slowing down, the cause is not the proximity of Stonehenge, but the reduction of the A303 westbound from dual carriageway to single lane shortly after Amesbury. Only when the A303 is upgraded to dual carriageway for its entire length will the bottleneck be resolved.

Andrew Atkins
Dorking, Surrey

Outsourcing idleness

SIR – Peter Mahaffey may be assured that plenty of workers will be available for any task if no alternative income is provided from state subsidies.

It is not relevant that immigrants from other European states will do the work: we cannot afford to outsource it and at the same time pay our own for idleness.

Andrew Smith
Epping, Essex

Dig for remembrance

SIR – With the approach of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on June 18 next year, I plan to plant a spinney to commemorate that great victory.

In addition to some Wellingtonias, I wonder if your readers have any other suggestions for suitable species? Given our changing climate, trees that thrive in mid France may be best.

WHG Warmington
Taunton, Somerset

While Ruskin regarded Oxford as a ‘temple of Apollo’, he was less kind about its alleys

Brasenose Lane street sign, Oxford University, Oxfordshire, England

Brasenose Lane: Love and loathing in the back alleys of Oxford Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 20 Oct 2014


SIR – Michael Henderson describes being subject to a revelation of beauty looking down Brasenose Lane from the Radcliffe Camera.

He’s not the only person to have had a vivid experience there. When John Ruskin gave his Slade Lecture, “The Relation to Art of the Science of Light”, in 1872, he told his audience about a negative epiphany in the same place.

The university he regarded as the “temple of Apollo”; but, he said, “in the centre of that temple, at the very foot of the dome of the Radclyffe, between two principal colleges, the lane by which I walked from my own college half an hour ago to this place – Brasen-nose Lane – is left in a state as loathsome as a back alley in the East end of London.”

Bernard Richards
Brasenose College, Oxford

Just how secure is Britain’s future within the EU? Photo: AFP/Getty Images

7:00AM BST 20 Oct 2014


SIR – The Prime Minister’s avowed intention to take back powers from the EU, specifically the power to control immigration from Europe, seems like an attempt to match Ukip’s policy in the light of that party’s recent successes.

Mr Cameron’s approach will be popular and might well lead, if his demand is unsuccessful, to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. But is it really good government to have such a momentous decision depend on a single issue such as immigration? I don’t know how I would cast my vote in any referendum, but I would not want the debate to focus on just one factor.

GH Jones
Bangor, Caernarvonshire

SIR – When he was in opposition, Philip Hammond, my local MP, assured me that he too was a Eurosceptic.

I reminded him of this when he was promoted to the opposition front bench, because David Cameron had made it clear he had no use for Eurosceptics, and much to my surprise Mr Hammond had a change of heart.

Now, as Foreign Secretary, he talks of lighting a fire under the EU. The problem is that Brussels will soon extinguish it.

Edward Huxley
Thorpe, Surrey

SIR – The Foreign Secretary’s assertion about “lighting a fire” under Europe is about as convincing a statement as making a bonfire of the quangos.

We know what the outcome was there.

Ron Burton
Loughborough, Leicestershire

SIR – Mr Hammond states that the EU has morphed “into a putative superstate”.

What he and many other politicians fail to understand that this is, and always has been, the objective of the EU.

If we are granted our referendum and vote to leave the EU, I fear that a further Act of Parliament may be required when we are ordered by Brussels to vote again and make certain that we produce the “right” result next time. Perhaps suitable provision should be made for this in the present Bill.

Michael Morris
Haverhill, Suffolk

SIR – Your correspondent Ambrose Evans-Pritchard highlights the disaster that is the French economy, propped up by Germany’s use of the euro.

No one seems to think that Mr Cameron can reverse any worthwhile treaty regulations, but he persists in his view that only by voting Conservative will a referendum be guaranteed.

Now that claim is in jeopardy. If Ukip manages to win several seats from both Labour and the Conservatives, it could just hold the balance of power.

Then the way to let Labour’s Ed Miliband in will be to vote Conservative.

A T Brookes
Charlwood, Surrey

Irish Times:

A chara, – When any group takes unto itself, without reference to objective moral norms or without legal authority, the role of being arbiter of right and wrong for its community, there is the ultimate inevitably of mayhem, brutality and murder. That sad reality is gradually becoming ever more clear in relation to the activities for over 30 years of the Provisional IRA and its fellow travellers in Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland of the Troubles.

The Provisionals established their ghettos and took upon themselves the right to determine how each person should behave and to whom they should be answerable. Failure by any person to comply with the wishes of the self-appointed bosses led to beatings, knee- cappings, tarring and feathering and ultimately to brutal murders. Much of this was given the gloss of being in defence of a beleaguered people. The reality is that the principal victims of those 30 years of mayhem were members of the nationalist community.

Some of the savagery was clothed with words that gave a veneer of respectability. Thus for all too long we have heard of the “Disappeared”, as if they walked voluntarily into the setting sun.

The cruel truth is that they were kidnapped, brutalised, shot and callously buried in lonely bogs far from home and loved ones.

Maíria Cahill’s terrible story of being raped and arrogantly interrogated is another manifestation of the reality that has for too long remained hidden. It is high time that we all treated with great caution those who make great play of their new- found love for freedom and democracy. – Is mise,



Co Kerry.

Sir, – Mary Lou McDonald repeatedly uses the word “decency” when she is attacking her political opponents. In shrill tones she prefaces her lecturers with, “if you had any decency”. It would be helpful if she now looked in the mirror and spoke those words. – Yours, etc,



Co Tipperary.

Sir, – Sinn Féin has come up with such excuses as it did not realise the seriousness of if it at the time, it did not know where to go, and it did not know what to do. But it dealt with it in its own way. Where did I hear that before? From the Catholic Church, which often just moved abusers around. Sinn Féin-types did the same, but with expulsions and sometimes shootings. Canon law and cannon law? –Yours, etc,



Co Mayo.

Sir, – Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman, Pearse Doherty, has said there is no cover-up in Sinn Féin, while the party’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said at the weekend that she believed Ms Cahill had been abused, but described her allegations that members of Sinn Féin covered up child abuse as “completely wrong”.

I find it extraordinary that two of the youngest senior members of Sinn Féin can speak with such authority about IRA matters which took place between 1997 and 2000. Pearse Doherty was little more than a boy when he joined Sinn Féin in 1996 and Mary Lou McDonald was a member of Fianna Fáil before joining Sinn Féin in 1998. Are we expected to believe that the IRA’s kangaroo courts documented their secret “deliberations” for open filing at Sinn Fein’s head office? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 5.

Sir, – Politicians, as we know, are masters of euphemism – but your front page quote from Gerry Adams’s blog takes the biscuit. He admits that “the IRA on occasion shot alleged sex offenders” [my emphasis] and he goes on to say that this “was not appropriate”! Surely a most inappropriate use of the word “appropriate”. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 13.

Sir, – In the past few years we have become accustomed to seeing Mary Lou McDonald’s terrier-like stance on the Public Accounts Committee. She has been to the fore as an inquisitor. She has left no stone unturned to get to the truth. I believe Ms McDonald needs to use these skills to question her party leader on the Maíria Cahill allegations. – Yours , etc,



Co Wexford.

A chara, – I note Sinn Féin’s policy of “deny, deny, deny” is alive and kicking. – Is mise,



Co Mayo.

Sir, – Fr Vincent Twomey writes, “Sad to say, the synod’s (now not-so-hidden) agenda feeds into a bigger agenda, which is that of a secular society which threatens the traditional family to its very foundations” (“Synod feeds secular agenda hostile to traditional family”, Opinion & Analysis, October 18th).

How extraordinary to hear a celibate express concern for the “traditional family”!

There are many kinds of families. For example, a same-sex couple who have adopted a child is a family, not a “traditional family” to be sure, but a family nonetheless.

On the other hand, Fr Twomey has made no contribution to the creation of a family, traditional or otherwise.

If anything “threatens the traditional family to its very foundations”, surely it is celibacy.

Fr Twomey need have no fear for the family, for all successful families are based on love, not on tradition, unless love be the tradition.

And since love comes from God, as Fr Twomey’s church teaches, then as long as God exists, so too will successful families. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – Rev Dr Vincent Twomey claims “he is sad to say the synod’s agenda feeds into a bigger agenda, which is that of a secular society”. But as a “faithful Catholic” too, I think the agenda may actually be the result of enlightened leaders within the church reviewing its teaching with an up-to-date understanding of human nature and an appreciation that gay, separated, or divorced persons in committed and loving relationships should be fully welcomed within the Catholic Church. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – On the weekend that the synod of bishops in Rome were reluctant to provide a welcome for gays, lesbians, etc, a Catholic priest sues his former male partner for a share of a house they cohabited in.

Mixed messages indeed. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – We learned in The Irish Times of October 18th what the prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signatura, the prefect of the Papal Household of Pope Francis and the private secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict had to say regarding various church laws. Surely the very Christian priests and nuns, who live out among the real people, would be much better qualified to say what Jesus Christ might think. Jesus, unlike the above, had no fancy title. – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

Sir, – The traditionalists’ warped view of Catholic beliefs has disturbingly held sway at the recent synod. They cling to outdated traditions, traditions which did not, do not and never will form part of the church’s core beliefs. Pope Francis has given hope to many Catholics that the much-needed change to these traditions is close at hand. The moment has now arrived for him to lead and transform. – Yours, etc,


Tai Tam, Hong Kong.

Sir, – It would be nice to think that the Holy Spirit is constantly at the side of Prof Twomey and his fellow Ionians as they trouble themselves so assiduously with our lack of holiness.

But maybe the Holy Spirit has other plans. Who knows? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – I am a 73-year-old father and grandfather who would claim to be both a practising and obedient member of the Catholic Church. At my age, most of the issues for members of the church about marriage and sexual practices have a feeling of personal remoteness, and I can almost rest content to hope and pray that the church’s leaders will be enlightened and empowered by the Holy Spirit in all of its responses to its members’ needs or questions.

Dr Twomey believes that the preparation for and summoning of this synod (and certainly its interim report) are only causing confusion about “pastoral situations already causing havoc for people” – including those “clinging by their finger tips”. For some that may indeed be so but for me and, I am sure, many like me, his article only brings to the fore once again what, to my mind, is the single greatest dilemma for the modern church regarding a large proportion of its currently baptised membership – the use of artificial contraception by Catholic married couples for planning their families.

While these men and women do not (yet) aspire to the “holiness” of teaching emanating from Humanae Vitae such as Theology of the Body by John Paul II, they also do not (in their own conscience) regard their family-oriented and sexually faithful lives, in such regard, to be “gravely sinful”. Yet in such circumstance, it seems, John Paul has stated in his brilliant if erudite book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, when dealing with the necessity of the church for salvation, that members of the church “who do not persist in charity, even if they remain in the Church in ‘body’ but not in ‘heart’, cannot be saved”.

If we accept, as I feel we must, that these ordinary men and women will not soon, if ever, be persuaded that what they are doing is very wrong (or at all), and given as Dr Twomey seems to admit, that the better way has hardly ever been adequately preached from the pulpit (and also that many of them participate in the preparation of their children for first holy communion), I sincerely wonder if Dr Twomey and those who feel as strongly, might not yet hope that some sincere but realistic way could be found to include them in a meaningful way in the sacramental (and sanctifying) life of the church.

Or, if this hope be simplistic, what exactly should the church and its evangelical members be saying to these people and with what words should they be invited and encouraged, from where they are at, to renew their faithful membership. – Yours, etc,


Clane, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Irish Water is out of its depth. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 9.

Sir, – Was this bonus business taken into account when calculating the average water charge?

Can the Taoiseach now quantify for us how much we all will be paying, on average, to cover the cost of these bonuses?

I don’t mind paying for a water supply but I strongly object to having to pay for bungling and featherbedding. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – So people on the Rental Accommodation Scheme are to be threatened with eviction for not paying water charges and inevitable call-out fees they can’t afford? That’s another 36,000-plus votes not going to the Government in the next general election. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The new water tax is not just about the supply and disposal of public water but is yet another Government-supplied gravy train for private individuals. Why are these people to be paid annual bonuses? Why isn’t every working man and woman on similar payouts? Because employers can’t afford them, that’s why. As a taxpayer I cannot afford to pay either the salaries or the bonuses of the new Irish Water staff. That’s that sorted then. – Yours, etc,



Co Cavan.

Sir, – Bonuses for doing what you’re paid for? Gosh! – Yours etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I have finally figured out how this water company is to work. First we have always paid for it though general taxation, but it leaks. So now, we are to pay a second tax to pay for the leaks. However, then, if we get a leak, we have to pay again (call-out charge) to fix the leak.

As a wise man once wrote, “it’s a great little country”. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 1.

Sir, – One of the strongest points in favour of the water charges is that it will put a stop to the gallop of the wasters.

We have all heard the stories about people who leave their taps running so that the pipes won’t freeze and who lavish water on the garden, washing cars, etc, etc.

I am surprised at how badly this is explained. I am also surprised that the question is never put to the anti-charges people, “How would you deal with this awful waste?”

Already I find myself cutting down on the use of water in many different ways.

I wonder what people will think of us in a hundred years when they are told that we flushed our toilets with expensively purified water. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – John McAvoy, former general manager of the CAO, in his comments on TCD’s alternative entry assessment criteria (“Students are guinea pigs in Trinity’s experiment”, Education Opinion, October 14th), raises the key issue of the authenticity of the authorship of the essay which is a significant element of the proposed entry assessment procedure.

The Hyland report (2011) draws particular attention to this issue.

When dealing with the question of essays and personal statements, Hyland states that “plagiarism is common in countries where personal statements are required, and would be likely to occur here if such an option were introduced”.

On the question of the presentation of a portfolio, Hyland states that “issues of author verification would arise, as well as the advantage secured by candidates who might have had access to coaching and private support”.

The same would apply to an essay.

As regards the proposal to rate students relative to their school, Hyland has this to say: “Students might transfer to less advantaged schools in their final year to take advantage of the benefits such a system would confer”.

I sincerely hope that the realism of Mr McAvoy and Prof Hyland will not be ignored. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – In his article “€4m plan for 1916 Rising ceremonies is a mystery” (Opinion & Analysis, October 18th), Diarmaid Ferriter states that the plans may be “an even bigger secret than were the plans for the Rising itself”.

Perhaps what is proposed by the Government is to replicate the events leading up to the Rising – plan, disagree, cancel and then go ahead at the last minute? – Yours, etc,



Co Limerick.

Sir, – Prof Diarmaid Ferriter correctly deplores the lack of concrete information about the Government’s plans for the Easter Rising centenary commemorations, but may I express my disgust that the Government has seen fit to allocate an additional €4 million for these commemorations without offering any relief to the national cultural institutions – in particular, the National Library and National Museum – which have been starved of resources in recent years, with draconian cuts in funding and staffing? These institutions are the key bodies for meaningful research in Irish history and culture, and the allocation of these additional funds favours commemoration over history – a serious case of misplaced priorities.

The Romans used to think panem et circenses would keep the people happy, and this Government apparently takes the same dismal view. Its policy seems to be, better to have a spectacle in 2016 – a patriotic circus – than a deeper understanding of our history. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – Perhaps Jennifer O’Connell in her column should have referred to the taking on of her own surname (“Bear Mel Gibson’s example in mind, Mrs Clooney”, October 21st).

To quote from her column, “but you’ll never take away my surname”.

Presumably her mother took her husband’s name of O’Connell on her marriage and left behind her own “maiden name”, so why didn’t Ms O’Connell take on her mother’s original surname to use, rather than her father’s? This would be the logical step for her to take, even at this late stage, when she now criticises Amal Alamuddin for taking on her new husband’s name of Clooney! Is it not Mrs Clooney’s business as to what decision she has made in this regard and no one else’s? – Yours, etc,


Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Irish Independent:

Exaggeration of the proximity of Christmas is a striking feature of today’s commercial world. We become easy victims of the magic of marketing and the seduction of sales strategies with their relentless repetition of the message to ‘shop ’til we drop’.

The marketing surrounding Harry Potter memorabilia, in my opinion, takes the stimulation of a desire to possess trinkets to a new level. The Potter magic is weaving spells of acquisitiveness that appeal to the innocent gullibility of children. Be warned! Your little loved ones will not forgive you if you refuse to empty your purse into the coffers of a fairly ruthless business peddling these toys.

Vance Packard, in his book ‘The Hidden Persuaders’, was one of the first to raise awareness of the way advertisers manipulate our expectations by subliminally inducing desire for products. The world of advertising plays fast and loose with the truth in its determination to stimulate sales.

The morality of marketing techniques is rarely questioned. Just consider the power of ‘buy one get one free’ marketing, which has resulted in over-filled fridges and subsequent food waste. But then, moral imagination has no place in the world of conspicuous and extravagant consumption.

Advertisers claim that they are in the business of making it easier for people to get what they want by providing relevant information. A more accurate characterisation of their work may be that it fuels our insatiable drive towards having far more than enough, whilst so many are struggling to feed their families.

The modern supermarket replaces the cathedral, particularly in relation to Sunday attendance. No longer do we pray for what we want, but reach for it on the well-stocked shelves. Should we be unable to pay for what we purchase, the contemporary good Samaritan, the pay-day lender, comes to the rescue.

Philip O’Neill

Oxford, England

True Seanad reform needed

It is a year on from the Seanad abolition referendum and there is no sign of the sort of possible reform that was invoked by action groups such as ‘Democracy Matters’ as the primary justification for its retention.

If anything, the recent Cultural and Educational Panel by-election only served to highlight the inherently dysfunctional nature of the Seanad panel structure.

Obviously, there is a notorious sense of awareness regarding the unfulfilled, perennial nature of Seanad reform debates. There have been so many alternative proposals put forward that a bottleneck of ideas has itself influenced the constitutional inertia. Who is going to do something about it?

The answer to this dilemma is to give the electorate the opportunity to decide which is the best reform. To do so, however, there is a need for constitutional reform to allow ‘preferendums’ to be held. Only permitting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers in referendums has an anachronistic, stifling effect on our democracy. A preferendum would allow for many constitutional questions (not just on the Seanad) to be answered by the people more inclusively and conclusively.

John Kennedy

Goatstown, Dublin 14

Bonus points for right answers

When is a “performance-related bonus” not a bonus?

Only when it is “water-tight”!

Now that is “gas”!

D Raftery

The Curragh, Co Kildare

Means testing and child benefit

Tanaiste Joan Burton has stoutly defended her decision to continue paying the Child Allowance without any reference to means. In a recently reported case of the disposal of two luxury homes on Dublin’s Shrewsbury Road, an estate agent confirmed that one of the properties was rented to an “Irish family” for €15,000 a month – that is €500 a day.

Someone should ask Ms Burton to repeat her justifications in light of the fact that there are families in Ireland with hungry children while, on the other hand, there are wealthy families which are automatically entitled to receive the same State payment that is clearly meant only to be a support where needed.

Jim O’Sullivan

Rathedmond, Co Sligo

A dying man’s plea to Catholics

By way of introduction, I left Ireland in 1959, just after my 23rd birthday. After a short stay in France I moved to England in 1960 and Canada in 1966.

While my mental faculties are still functioning 100pc I am writing this letter from the intensive care unit of the hospital. My condition is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, for which there is no cure. It has taken a bad turn, so the future is unknown.

The amazing initial outcome is that I have been able to accept it with complete resignation. This is, I believe, because when I received the news in January last that I had six months to a year to live it enabled me to plan so that all necessary details of my affairs are in order, including funeral, etc. This will greatly help my wife and family.

This strength just did not come from the foretelling of my death. It came from the spiritual training I received growing up in Ireland. I have always drawn strength from this throughout my life, especially from a very special teacher at the national school I attended.

The bad apples in the clergy barrel of recent history don’t have the power to take away this inner strength given to me by God through the Catholic Church in Ireland.

My prayer is that Irish Catholics will take advantage of the fantastic spiritual assistance still available from the many loyal priests who are so deserving of their support and trust.

Looking from afar I thank God for Archbishop Diarmuid Martin who, despite humbly taking such public abuse, has done so much in regaining respectability for the church.

Paddy O’Boyle

Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Suffering not confined to Africa

Bob Geldof states that people in Africa are dying because they are poor, not because there is no medical care or food. This is true to some extent, but death, unbound bereavement, the feeling of loss and helplessness are not confined to the African continent.

They can also plague rich Western nations where there is abundance of medical care, medicines and food and where there are the best healthcare centres to care for patients and staunch the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola.

The mega rich in wealthy nations can also succumb to death through different vistas: drug addiction, mental health illnesses, terrible depressiveness and suicide. Death is inevitable. It intrudes itself unexpectedly into the lives of all without taking notice of their backgrounds, religions, beliefs, races and cultures. In this sense, it embodies God’s justice itself. It is therefore lamentable that people vie for power and resources.

In our shrinking world, the quest for hegemony and natural resources has led to authoritarianism, corruption, wars and viruses and there is no end in sight for our descent into chaos. This is an unholy war. This is where people declare themselves God’s chosen people on Earth to do God’s will.

What is needed is the will and bravery to confront ourselves and choose whether we want to live in our God’s image or do his will on Earth.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London, England

Response: ‘And also with flu’

I got the impression from a medical person that one of the most likely ways of spreading cold, flu, etc is by shaking hands indiscriminately. In the context of Church services, as they say in the exam papers, please discuss.

JJ O’Reilly

Dublin 16

Irish Independent



October 20, 2014

20 October 2014 Blustery

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I manage to sweep the drive in parts.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Richard Mackworth – obituary

Richard Mackworth was an engineer who restored his family seat and made Routemaster buses reliable

Richard Mackworth

Richard Mackworth

6:59PM BST 19 Oct 2014


Richard Mackworth, who has died aged 89, applied his skills as a mechanical engineer to keep London’s Routemaster buses on the road in the 1950s and later to the restoration of his family seat, Buntingsdale Hall, near Market Drayton, Shropshire.

The hall, a rambling red-brick Grade II* listed house, had been built for the Mackworth family between 1719 and 1721, though they sold it in 1797. During the Second World War Buntingsdale was requisitioned as a Bomber Command control centre. The RAF kept the building during the Cold War until 1981 when the house was sold to developers who divided it into flats and, it is claimed, embarked upon insurance scams which were going to conclude with the house being burned down. When Mackworth, a descendant of the original owners, became aware of the situation, he and his wife Rosalind set about buying back the flats piecemeal. In due course they succeeded in reclaiming the whole house, to which they moved, on a semi-permanent basis, in 1985.

By this time the house was in a serious state of disrepair, with no water, gas or electricity. All the floorboards and mantelpieces had been stripped out. Water was pouring in through the ceilings.

With minimal help from conservation bodies, Mackworth set about repairing the house, starting with the roof. Then, once the house was watertight he began on the rooms, restoring them one by one with the help of a team of local people. He did much of the work himself, often teaching himself new building techniques on the job and seeing off vandals on his own. It was a long and laborious process which was crowned, in 2004, with the house being removed from the Historic Buildings at Risk register. By the end of his life Mackworth had the satisfaction of knowing that the work was complete.

Buntingsdale Hall, near Market Drayton, Shropshire

Richard Charles Audley Mackworth, known as “Dick”, was born on October 29 1924. His father, Philip Mackworth, was a much-decorated Air Vice Marshal, and Richard’s early life was peripatetic as his family followed the RAF around the globe. He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, in Canada, where his father was in charge of wartime pilot training for the RAF.

The moment he turned 17, with the war in Europe still raging, young Dick volunteered to follow his father into the RAF. In fact he had to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, but soon managed to transfer to the RAF, serving towards the end of the war as a pilot in Transport Command and Coastal Command. After the end of the war he was involved in long-haul flights to the Far East, repatriating PoWs.

Demobbed in the rank of Flight Lieutenant, he went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge, to read Mechanical Engineering, graduating with a First, followed by an MSc at Imperial College. He was then invited to joined the design office of London Transport, where he was responsible for ensuring the reliable operation of the engine and drivetrain (the components that deliver power to the wheels) of the red Routemaster buses which were then beginning to appear on London’s roads.

After 10 years with LT he joined BOC, where he was responsible for developing new food freezing technologies, followed by Chemico and finally as chief construction engineer with the American international engineering and construction company Fluor, with whom he was involved in building oil pipelines in the Arabian Desert. In the early 1980s he was sought out by the Libyan national oil company Sirte to handle the repair and rebuilding of a desert control centre which had been blown up by terrorists, and also to rebuild the oil pipelines across the desert. He worked on this project for some years before returning to Britain to devote himself to Buntingsdale Hall.

In 1960 he married Rosalind Walters, who survives him with their two daughters.

Richard Mackworth, born October 29 1924, died September 9 2014


Healthcare worker with children recovering from Ebola, Freetown, Sier A healthcare worker speaks to children recovering from Ebola at a treatment centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 15 October 2014. Photograph: Michael Duff/AP

Kofi Annan is right to criticise the slow reaction by the west to the Ebola crisis (Follow Britain’s example on Ebola, David Cameron tells world leaders, 17 October 2014). However, I do not agree that “if the crisis had hit some other region it probably would have been handled very differently. In fact, when you look at the evolution of the crisis, the international community really woke up when the disease got to America and Europe.” Mr Annan knows very well that there would be no need for the west to help Africa fight Ebola today if most of the £550bn given to the continent as development aid since independence, had not been diverted to fund local leaders’ luxury lifestyles.

Yet the insinuation of racism is too often used to morally blackmail western governments into taking, or not taking an action in Africa. For example, last year, the African Union passed a resolution that claimed the west was using the international criminal court (ICC) to witch-hunt African leaders.
Sam Akaki
Director, Democratic Institutions for Poverty Reduction in Africa (Dipra)

• Sierra Leone has been a recipient of development aid for many years. The UK and US, the biggest donors, both stress that they prioritise health. Net bilateral aid from the UK in 2012 was £62m. However, reports on the effectiveness of aid from the OECD in 2010 and the UN University in 2013 make no reference to health. The capacity and resilience of the health system in the face of Ebola strongly suggests far too little progress has been made. Unless radical improvements are made to primary healthcare and basic services such as sanitation and clean water, Sierra Leone and a multitude of low and middle income countries will remain vulnerable to chronic ill health and premature mortality and epidemics. We are surely entitled to ask whether the emphasis on trade and economic development in aid is at the expense of the majority of the populations in many states.
Neil Blackshaw
Little Easton, Essex

• We welcome the deployment of medical staff, public health specialists and even the military who are arriving to support their efforts (Report, 16 October). But we must also remember the thousands of local people who have been working flat out on this disease since the first outbreaks. They are doctors and nurses, community health workers, cleaners and those who bury the dead safely. And there are also ordinary people who have volunteered to go into villages and teach people how to protect themselves from the disease and also try to quell the panic and fear that people are understandably feeling.

ActionAid staff and volunteers have been doing this job here in Liberia and in Sierra Leone, as well as going into quarantined areas to provide emergency food rations to those who are not allowed to harvest their crops or go to market to buy food. So, yes we need funds for medical treatment, but let’s not forget, to cut this outbreak off at the source requires a holistic approach involving medical intervention, prevention campaigns and practical aid for those affected, which is centred around community mobilisation.
Ms Korto Williams
Country Director, ActionAid Liberia

• US secretary of state John Kerry speaks of the Ebola “scourge” as comparable with HIV (Report, 18 October). I was a clinical nurse specialist working with people with HIV/Aids three decades ago when HIV was first identified. At the time there was ignorance and fear about “a disease of dark origin” coming out of Africa and seen as a threat to the west. Now we face a similar situation with Ebola; it is forgotten that Sierra Leone has the world’s highest mortality rate for malaria, in excess of Ebola figures. Malaria kills 130/100,000 of its population. How much does the west express concern and demand action? Oh, I forgot: malaria has zero rates in these countries.
Denis Cobell

• What are your human rights during quarantine? It is clear that the right to free movement and enjoying family life is restricted for public safety needs. People will be locked away to ensure our wellbeing. We do have a responsibility for their care. Do we have enough secure rooms or will we use prisons? How can we guarantee everybody is treated with respect? Who is responsible for people’s wellbeing during the two months lasting quarantine? Rents? There will be a need for psychological support.

I once was wrongly quarantined for swine flu and something as ordinary as pneumonia was missed in the hysteria, and nearly treated too late. This time, some people with temperatures coming from Africa might be misdiagnosed too. We need compassion for the infected, the NHS staff but also the innocently quarantined. We should not let hysteria dictate our treatment of potential infected people but focus on public health measures that are properly thought through.
Julia Thrul

• While the Hong Kong government has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently (Letters, passim), preventative health measures initiated there during the Sars crisis of 2003 when Dr Margaret Chan, the current head of the WHO, was director of health, included the obligation for lift buttons, door handles etc in public buildings to be disinfected many times a day. These measures are still in force, as is the obligation for all passengers arriving at the international airport to walk through thermal imaging fever-scanners. Border control points between Hong Kong and mainland China also implement disease prevention and control measures. These are not fail-safe measures by any means, but at times of crisis like the current Ebola outbreak, such actions most certainly help educate the public about how diseases can spread, and how individuals can monitor their habits to help prevent further rapid spreading.
Paul Tattam
Teignmouth, Devon

• After the screening confusion at Heathrow (Report, 14 October), perhaps the UK could seek advice from Nicaragua. I passed through Managua airport on Monday en route from Houston, stood in line with everyone else to have my temperature checked, and today received a precautionary follow-up visit from a doctor. Nicaragua’s national health budget, by the way, is less than a typical NHS trust.
John Perry
Masaya, Nicaragua

• I see travellers are being checked for symptoms of Ebola at departure points in affected countries. A further precaution would be to advise the public against unnecessary international travel for the time being. This would buy time for doctors to contain the virus at source.
Susan Roberts
Sterrebeek, Belgium

• Is fear of Ebola on aeroplanes the spur to video-conferencing that businesses have been long waiting for?
Godfrey H. Holmes
Withernsea, East Riding

• For any infective disease, the basic reproduction rate is the number of new cases produced by a single case in a susceptible (ie unvaccinated) population (Simon Jenkins, 17 October). If the figure is less than 1, the infection will die out. If greater than 1, an epidemic can result. With Ebola the rate is just above 1.5, which means that every two cases produce three more. That is the basis for the WHO prediction that new cases in West Africa will double every month. Without an effective vaccine, the disease will become progressively more difficult to control as the number of cases increase, and unless quarantine measures are introduced, spread to the rest of the world seems inevitable.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

• Simon Jenkins is right to inveigh against the habit of politicians keeping the populace in a state of fear. The tragedy is that this epidemic could have been nipped in the bud months ago if governments had paid heed to organisations such as Medecins sans Frontières whose newsletters portrayed the horror of the situation in unemotional terms. The cutting of the WHO budget and aid to the health systems of West Africa by the World Bank and others is now revealed as the grossest false economy, for which we will all pay dearly in terms of both human misery and money.
Dr John Hurdley

Scotland's hope? Gordon Brown. Scotland’s hope? Gordon Brown. Photograph: Garry F Mcharg/PA

It has generally been acknowledged that Gordon Brown (Comment, 18 October) brought new energy and passion to the no campaign in the final weeks before the referendum. He also persuaded the three party leaders to agree the “vow” on further devolution, which some believe ensured a positive result for the union. So he cannot now simply stand on the touchline and encourage the players on the field. He must help to ensure his vision is realised. There are three ways he can do so.

First, he can help Lord Smith of Kelvin succeed in what is a difficult, if not impossible, task of finding a consensus among the five parties on his commission. Then he can help ensure that the English democratic deficit is not dealt with by trying to alter the standing orders of the Commons on the English votes for English laws model, which, as he rightly says, would again threaten the integrity of the UK. This can only be resolved by looking at our constitution in a coherent way in a UK constitutional convention similar to the one which designed Scottish devolution. If Gordon can persuade the three party leaders on the “vow”, surely he is the person to get them to agree to set up such a convention now, so it can work in parallel with the Smith commission.

Finally, he should consider whether his enormous talents could be mobilised to help Holyrood implement the new powers that are to be agreed by standing for the Scottish parliament. This may appear to be an unusual move but we are now in uncharted waters, and bold action, at which Gordon is adept, is what is needed.
George Foulkes
Lab, House of Lords

• I respect Gordon Brown’s desire to ensure fairer treatment for Scotland. But his complicated suggestions will not alter the fact that “533 English MPs can, at any time they choose, easily outvote the 117 parliamentarians from the rest of the UK”. He should add that as the 533 are disproportionately from English public schools, they are unlikely to have much sympathy for the Scottish working class. They overwhelmingly gave support to the millionaire Tory ministers who, by mammoth cuts to the Scottish welfare budget, created more inequality, poverty, want and hunger than I have ever seen in Scotland’s deprived areas. Moreover, the Labour party backed these cuts as, to their shame, so did the 41 Scottish Labour MPs, who dare not differ from the Labour leadership.

I write with over 50 years in the Labour party. The only way for Scotland to combat the harmful policies imposed by Westminster is by independence. I plead with Gordon Brown to be the Labour leader who leads Scotland to an independence which can bring about greater democracy, equality and social justice.
Bob Holman

Woman typing on computer keyboard ‘I’m surprised male letter writers so outnumber females, as in your column I outpublish my husband. But I rush to the computer and dash off letters.’ Photograph: Martin Rogers/Getty

I don’t know which statistic describes me (The role of the Guardian letters page in the digital age, Open door, 13 October), but I always look at the letters page. I glance first at the headlines of the letter groups, then the names of the authors. Being female, 66, retired, healthy, content (in my private life, not in the state of things), I nevertheless find certain subjects too depressing to bother with, so letters on those are rarely read by me.

I usually read all the letters in the humorous section, always read those by Keith Flett, and since the publication of friend Norma Laming’s letter about her rabbits’ voting preference (Letters, 14 August), I look for her name. I have sent several letters over the years, but have not so far made the cut.
Eva Joyce

• I’m surprised male letter writers so outnumber females, as in your letters column I outpublish my husband. But I rush to the computer and dash off letters, while he takes three days to make sure his position is clear and misses the boat – you move the news agenda on so relentlessly. Maybe women who work full-time and mind the kids would manage to write if the news window was wider.
Margaret Squires
St Andrews

• I fancied I might be counted among the core letter writers, but I seem to have been drummed out of the group lately. I’ll happily accept editorial space in lieu (Letters, 15 October). Shall I send my bank details?
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

• I remember the good old days when the letters page was ranked alongside the leader column (Letters, October 16).
John Bailey
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Alexander Wang x H&M Collection Launch - Show Like George Osborne dressed by Steve Bell? Aleander Wang x H&M catwalk show, 16 October 2014. Photograph: Thomas Concordia/WireImage

Jess Cartner-Morley (Wang brings sport and scuba chic to high street, 18 October) curiously ignores the similarity between H&M’s latest collection, and George Osborne’s S&M outfit, designed and oft-employed by Steve Bell. Surely the defining influence?
Eddie Dougall
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk  

• Recent activity in the fossil banks would suggest an appropriate name for the current geological era (Letters, 17 October) might be the Rapacious Period – known perhaps colloquially, as the Boracic?
Chris Osborne

• I don’t recall Lord Freud (Report, 16 October) raising objections when the party closed down the Remploy factories because they needed subsidies.
David Redshaw
Gravesend, Kent


I have read with interest your many articles about the NHS. Having received a great deal of treatment from the NHS over the past three years, I thought it was about time I gave my thoughts and experiences.

I live in Worcestershire and have access primarily to a superb GP. We have been with this practice for many years and have built up an excellent relationship with all the staff, GPs, practice nurses and ancillary staff.

In 2010 I finally decided that problems with arthritis were severely hampering what I could do. Having gone through preliminary procedures we – the GP and I – decided that an operation was needed.

My GP was happy to refer me to my hospital of choice: the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham. Over the next 12 months I had two procedures: a right ankle fusion and 12 months later a left knee replacement.

During both of these procedures my experience was one of total satisfaction, both with the outcomes of the operations and the care administered by the staff.

I am now, thanks to dedicated, committed and highly skilled NHS staff, totally pain-free.

I thought that I had done at that point and felt very grateful to a superb health service. I was wrong. I was diagnosed shortly afterwards with bowel cancer. Once again I received first-rate treatment from doctors and surgeons.

I am now recovering and, throughout all my experiences of four separate NHS trusts covering six hospitals, I can honestly say that I was treated with kindness, care, respect and some of the most skilful surgery and radiotherapy you could wish for.

I have had treatment from the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust, Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire, and community support services, as well as the Royal Orthopaedic  Hospital and my GP at St John’s Surgery in Bromsgrove.

My final point is this: stop knocking the NHS. Yes, there may well be problems; it’s an enormous organisation which is strapped for cash. My abiding memories are of dedicated, skilled individuals who are committed to the very best of care and treatment they can offer. The best part, by far, of the NHS is the people.

I genuinely hope that current and subsequent governments keep their hands off a service which was and should still be one of the best there is.

I would not choose to have private healthcare. I have been treated to some of the best surgery I could wish for and all delivered free. The NHS was groundbreaking at its inception and still maintains those ideals, when it is allowed to do its work unfettered by interference.

Don’t privatise the NHS.

Peter Garnett
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

Could there be anything more chilling than the unnamed Government source’s comment in your report “Tens of thousands of patients at risk from NHS outsourcing” (17 October) about “the need to minimise regulatory burdens on business”?

In other words, safeguards put in place to protect patient safety must be lowered in order to allow the private sector to extract more profit out of patient sickness.

Christopher Anton

If the Germans had taken Stonehenge…

It’s 1956 and the Third Reich is well established over the whole of Europe. His Excellency Herman Schmidt, Governor of occupied England, grants permission for a German aristocrat to remove the stones of Stonehenge to a site in Berlin where they are re-erected in a museum to the ancient world.

It cost the German aristocrat a lot of money to transport them over to Berlin, so the then German superstate bought the stones off him in recompense.

Let’s skip forward a couple of hundred years and, supported by the US, the people of Britain, in a decade-long war, have reclaimed their land. Seeking to restore their cultural history, they apply to a now chastened Germany for the return of Stonehenge on the grounds that it is stolen goods.

How is this any different to our unlawful possession of the Elgin Marbles? The Greek people have an absolute right to the return of stolen goods.

G Barlow
Greasby, Wirral

Egg freezing gives women choice

Media and public alike have been too quick to criticise the move by Facebook and Apple to pay female workers to freeze their eggs.

These companies are being progressive, acknowledging that many of their female employees wish to have children later in life and enabling them to do so. It’s not such a sinister move as is being portrayed. These companies are incredibly supportive of parenting and offer a whole arsenal of benefits to support women if they choose to have children, from bonuses to surrogacy subsidies.

Many women working in tech are young. They don’t want to put their careers on hold to have children, but neither do they have the funds to stop their biological clocks. Allowing women to freeze their eggs makes this choice accessible, providing further flexibility about how they want to play out their careers. View it as a radical perk or a chain to the office; ultimately it provides a choice – and one that women aren’t forced to take.

Hayley Fisher
London SW1

Let’s have a new generation of hope

When I was growing up in the 1960s, the dominant mood was one of hope for the future. Around us were many events – including the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war, challenges to the established order, and many diseases that had tragic outcomes for individuals – but hope was the sentiment that led to progress. Despite the many failures in the latter half of the 20th century, progress has been driven by people and politicians fuelled by this sentiment.

Contrast that period with our current situation. Following the lead of the US, our politicians are attempting to exploit fear to generate votes; our 24-hour rolling news searches for disasters, tragedies and crimes to energise its output; and the tabloid press produces headlines to shock rather than inform.

Ebola, Isis, economic instability and the funding of the NHS are all matters that need solutions, and mankind’s resilience and innovation can find answers, but not if paralysed by fear.

I implore our political leaders in the future election campaign to give the people of this country a vision of hope. If they do not, fear will lead to despair, and my concern is for the effect on the young generation growing up in such an inward-looking, insecure society.

John Dillon
Northfield, Birmingham

False benefit of restricting migrants

Our Prime Minister has it in mind to restrict immigration from the EU of the unskilled and, no doubt, of the handicapped too. We are to attract only the skilled and gifted. “Johnny Foreigner” must be kept away as much as possible.

European countries would then take the exactly reciprocal course. They will want our finest and to return our unskilled.

The original idea of freeing up European labour markets was so that swings in labour need would be self-correcting, as, to a large extent, they are.

Kenneth J Moss

David Cameron is hinting at applying a brake on immigration from mainland Europe. If he and George Osborne were to reverse their policy of playing up our economic recovery, then the UK would appear less attractive to foreign nationals. But of course this might lower further their chances of a Tory majority next May.

Peter Erridge
East Grinstead, West Sussex

On a day that saw more damaging rhetoric from David Cameron on Europe, giving it “one last go” at negotiations, you reported on the ongoing resistance of the bankers, backed by George Osborne, to new European rules on bonuses.

Where are the politicians brave enough to insist that it is the greedy banks and global corporations that should be in the last chance saloon, and that political unions – both the UK and the EU – offer the best defence for their citizens against the negative side of globalisation?

Andrew Gardner
London NW3

Islam and the treatment of women

No. Mr Beswick, Islam does not “forbid rape” (letter, 16 October). The Koran, chapter 4, verse 24 lists the categories of women that are forbidden to Muslim men, among them “married women, except those whom you own as slaves”.

The Koranic commentator Sayyid Maududi interprets this as meaning that it is lawful for Muslim “holy warriors” to marry women prisoners of war even when their husbands are still alive. Maududi didn’t live in some brutish century of the past. He died in 1979.

This is the justification that Isis is using for its barbarous treatment of enslaved Yazidi women and girls.

David Crawford
Bromley, Kent


Sir, Philip Collins (“Let’s halt the pensioners runaway gravy train”, Opinion, Oct 17) overlooks the effect of low interest rates. The £100s per annum “gained” by pensioners from the rise in state benefits has been at the cost of £1,000s lost to them because of reduced interest on savings and annuities. The baby boomers took their cue from their parents, who lived within their means. The 21st-century family have bought into the concept of entitlement “because they are worth it” and now blame others.
Rodney Fisher
Liss, Hants

Sir, The problem is that politicians of all persuasions think that you can have public services and a welfare state for nothing. Many of my generation paid tax of up to 27p in the pound to fund hospitals, schools and universities for present and future generations. We didn’t whinge. We have a low-wage, low-tax economy that allows the wealthy and large corporations to opt out of paying taxes. It is the super-rich, who have about 95 per cent of the wealth in this country, that are getting off lightly.
Barry Wadeson

Milton Keynes, Bucks

Sir, Philip Collins fails to mention that more than 50,000 pensioners are forced by their councils to sell or ensure estate provision of their homes in order to pay for care and nursing as self-funders.
Vernon Scarborough

Copthorne, W Sussex

Sir, Both Philip Collins and the Institute for Economic Affairs (report, Oct 17) suggest a dramatic reduction in the state pension. Both ignore the fact that such a move would hurt the less well-off far more severely. Meanwhile, the imminent change in state pensions to a flat rate is an aggravating factor to some, with retirement age creeping upwards and a regime that requires only 35 years’ contributions to achieve a full pension — far less than required for us nuisance baby boomers.
Malcolm Griffiths
Solihull, W Midlands

Sir, Pension reform is welcome but pension companies will see their income diminished as a sizeable number of “new” pensioners will choose a tax-free lump sum over an annuity. This will cause instability among pension companies and the possible loss of lifetime savings should one go bust — as happened with Equitable Life. A solution might be to enhance tax benefits for pension holders to encourage them to take an annuity or keep an existing one. The government should also set up a compensation scheme to protect pensioners if their pension provider goes belly up.
Stephen Kirk

London NW1

Sir, Life isn’t as agreeable for some pensioners as Mr Collins imagines. Mindful that job changes would leave me with a couple of minute preserved pensions, I saved assiduously. I opted for Equitable Life, so goodbye to most of that. I gasp with relief each month when the state pension turns up.
Elizabeth Balsom
London SW15

Sir, That successive governments have squandered money on vanity projects is hardly the fault of the baby boomers. There has never been a one-to-one relationship between contributions and distribution across age bands.
Tim Thomas

Langstone, Hants

Sir, Ross Clark (Thunderer, Oct 15) contends that “in 2012-13 tax relief on pension contributions cost the Treasury £50 billion”. Since all bar the 25 per cent tax-free cash from a pension pot is taxable, the net cost is actually £2.5 billion. He also states that by saving £40,000 a year (the contribution cap) “you would end up so rich that that you could afford a valet and a butler”. The £1.25 million fund limit, however, would buy a 65-year-old a taxable joint annuity of £40,000 a year. You won’t get many butlers for that.
Jon Minchin

Pensionline, Epsom, Surrey

Sir, I am a member of the squeezed middle-aged and I am sure that Philip Collins, would be pleased to hear that my 85-year-old mother agrees with him, and is doing her little bit. I am still in receipt of “pocket money” most weeks.
David Ward

Moreton, Wirral

Sir, Bill Bryson’s book Mother Tongue says that the suffixes “-age” and “-idge” (“Garage, Farage”, letter, Oct 16) are of French origin. “-age” words adopted before the 17th century became anglicised into “-idge”. Later adoptions retained the Gallic flavour. “Farage” must be a recent import.
Barbara Geere (née Grattidge)
Bromley, Kent

Sir, It has been a wonderful year for blackberries here, with a plentiful crop of juicy, flavoursome fruit. My freezer is full to overflowing. I wryly note that my local Tesco is having to heavily discount its blackberries — imported from Guatemala.
Robin Edwins
Ecclefechan, Dumfries & Galloway

Sir, Apropos Boris Johnson’s proposal to ban smoking in London parks (report, Oct 15). While on business in New York, to celebrate a sale I sat on a quiet bench in Central Park and lit a cigar. I was blissfully puffing away, when a woman in a mink coat appeared. “You’re killing the trees,” she snarled, her face in mine.

“Madam, how many innocent minks died for your coat?” I asked. “Pray desist.”

She desisted. I exhaled.

Peter Rosengard

London W9
Sir, The problem in Richmond Park is people trying to push the trees over.

Steve Dobell

London SW14

Sir, Our nation should be building at least 240,000 homes a year in communities that are well-designed and in suitable locations, rather than the piecemeal development that can happen currently. We need solutions that aim to ensure people’s happiness and secure national prosperity. Good planning goes beyond the cycle of elections, and cross-party support for the Lyons housing review — unveiled last week — is vital for high-quality developments to be delivered. For too long planning has been marked by division. It is time the nation came together. We need a national consensus with:
1) Comprehensive redevelopment of brownfield sites (such as the docks in London, Salford and Bristol);
2) Add-ons to communities where new development improves amenity for everyone; this will include extra services and better transportation — and should not be housing estates just added to the edge of a town, and
3) New settlements based on garden city principles.

The country must set itself on a sustainable path to create communities with the best public transport, play areas, schools, workplaces and social facilities. Our children deserve no less.

Lord Adonis

Bob Allies

Roger Bootle

Paul Carter Leader Kent County Council

Sir David Higgins Chairman HS2 Ltd

Lord Deben

Keith Exford Group Chief Executive Affinity Sutton

Sir Terry Farrell

Peter Freeman Argent and Mayfields Market Towns

Euan Hall Chief Executive The Land Trust

Kate Henderson Chief Executive

Peter Jones CBE Chairman South East LEP

Sir Michael Lyons

Roger Madelin

David Orr Chief Executive National Housing Federation

Nick Raynsford MP

Campbell Robb Chief Executive Shelter

Francis Salway Chair Town & Country Housing Group

Lee Shostak Chairman Shared Intelligence

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor

Pat Willoughby Partner Wei Yang + Partners

Lord Wolfson


An overhaul of A-levels will result in thousands of ‘overambitious’ sixth-formers applying to Oxbridge, according to Mike Sewell Photo: GETTY IMAGES

6:55AM BST 19 Oct 2014


SIR – I was very disappointed to read the comments made by Mike Sewell, the head of admissions at Cambridge, on the risk of too many students making “overambitious” applications to Oxbridge once AS examinations no longer count towards A-level grades.

Both Oxford and Cambridge have worked hard over the past two decades to dispel some of the myths about studying at their universities and I worry that Dr Sewell’s remarks may undermine some of what has been achieved.

The danger is that such comments will fuel self-doubt in able students who are often too quick to underestimate or disregard their talent and potential. They could also be misinterpreted by teachers and schools with limited experience of Oxbridge applications as encouragement to adopt a risk-averse approach on the basis that it is better not to try than it is to risk not succeeding.

There is no shame in not securing an offer if one applies to Oxbridge; very few of us go through life without encountering a mixture of success and disappointment.

Jason Morrow
Headmaster, Norwich High School

Charity handouts

SIR – Jonathan Robson states that it is “not the Government’s role to fund charities”. However, charities do receive a great deal of funding from the Government – perhaps too much.

In reply to a written question that I tabled, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on behalf of the Government, wrote: “According to the 2014 UK Voluntary Sector Almanac, published by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, in 2011-12 voluntary sector organisations received over £5.9 billion of central government and NHS funding.”

Lord Stoddart of Swindon
Independent Labour Peer

Slash the slang

SIR – Last year The Telegraph reported that a primary school in the West Midlands had banned the use of Black Country slang.

This week it was revealed that standards at the school have improved, which merits an appropriate response: bostin!

Dr Paul Baines

SIR – I am an 81-year-old who speaks Received Pronunciation.

I was recently at a gathering when a young chap turned and said to me: “Why do you speak so weird?”

Wendy Shaw
Kirkham, Lancashire

The Grand Hotel in aftermath of the IRA bombing Photo: Rex

6:57AM BST 19 Oct 2014


SIR – I started attending Conservative Party conferences in 1982 and continued until the seaside towns were abandoned and Birmingham and Manchester became the hosts. For me, the 1984 conference will always be the most memorable.

On the Thursday of that week I had been awarded the privilege of proposing the motion for the debate on employment. I had worked hard on my speech, interviewing many people on the subject and learning a great deal.

When the bomb exploded and woke me in nearby Regency Square, and later when I turned on the television to see Norman Tebbit being pulled from the rubble, I was horrified.

What struck me, and what no one has mentioned since, was the silence in the town, which was normally bustling. I found a telephone and called my husband to tell him I was safe and that I was staying put: nothing should deter us from finishing our conference with true defiance.

I have seldom been so proud to be a Conservative as I was when we greeted the solemn but determined prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. She was the target of the IRA’s hatred, but she had the courage to stand in front of us all and promise to fight.

As for the Brighton bomber, Patrick Magee, I agree with Norman Tebbit: if he has not repented, he should not be forgiven.

Sally A Williams
Dinas Cross, Pembrokeshire

Ticked off with trains

SIR – Your correspondent Jim Middleton (Letters, October 5) complains about the speed of Crossrail trains.

I live 44 miles north-west of central Manchester. If I wish to get to the city by train, I have to first travel 25 miles east to Leeds before changing and catching a train to Manchester, a further 45 miles to the west. On one of two possible routes for this second leg I would at one point, after travelling for over an hour, be a mere 7 miles from home.

There are 2.2 million people in West Yorkshire subject to this farce, or elements of it. A missing link of 11.5 miles between Skipton and Colne, which used to provide an excellent connection to Manchester and Liverpool for those living north of Leeds and Bradford, was closed in the Seventies.

Dr Beeching, then chairman of British Railways, wanted to leave it open, but London-based civil servants required the London Midland region to lose 12 miles of track to make up a closure target, and this piece handily fitted the bill. The cost of re-opening this track would be a few million and the disruption virtually nil.

Our transport needs are addressed by civil servants in the capital who enjoy so much subsidised public transport that cars are not even necessary for a decent life – and now they are to get Crossrail too.

These people do not seem to have a clue about provincial conditions.

David Pearson
Haworth, West Yorkshire

SIR – Your correspondent Ian Nalder does not go far enough when he says that the HS2 project should be deferred.

It should be cancelled.

P M Hughes
Bascote Heath, Warwickshire

Staring down students

SIR – Keith Pearson (Letters, October 5) writes that teachers should “assume authority to demand respect” in the classroom.

In 1946, when I began my teaching career in a boys’ elementary school, a wise headmaster gave me some sound advice. Pointing to his left eye he said: “This is the best method you have for keeping order: the cold, silent stare.”

In 1959 I moved to a secondary modern school and later spent 14 years in a college of technology. Students included A-level and Higher National Diploma candidates, private secretaries, motor mechanics and some tough young mining engineers, but with any who attempted disruption – and some did – the cold, silent stare never failed.

Kevin Heneghan
St Helens, Lancashire

Churchill’s bills

SIR – Boris Johnson may be right to conclude that Churchill was warm-hearted, but it was a mistake to pray in aid the fact that he “sent money to the wife of his doctor when she got into difficulties”. The reason he did this was more prosaic.

The government paid Churchill’s doctor during the war. When Lord Moran continued in his role as Churchill’s personal physician after the war, he declined any direct payment, partly because it would have been taxed at more than 90 per cent.

The solution the pair reached was that Churchill would pay Lady Moran under a seven-year deed of covenant. As a non-taxpayer, she was able to boost the sum he paid by reclaiming the basic rate of tax; as a higher-rate taxpayer, Churchill was able to use the payments to reduce his own tax bill. The net cost to him was about 10 per cent of the amount Lady Moran received.

So successful was this arrangement that Churchill extended it to the Morans’ sons when he needed more medical attention in his later years.

David Lough
Penshurst, Kent

Escape to Alcazar

SIR – How can one recommend Seville (Travel, Your Say, October 12) without mentioning the magnificent Alcazar – the stunning Moorish Palace next to the cathedral?

Carol Parkin
Poole, Dorset

Apt punishment?

SIR – Reading about the packed “isolation” room reminded me of a comparably ironic policy implemented by Strathclyde’s education department when I worked for it in the Seventies: persistent truancy was punished by exclusion from school.

Robin Dow
Stocksbridge, West Yorkshire

Great British traditions: fish, chips and puns served up at the Jolly Sole chip shop in Banffshire, Scotland Photo: christopher Pillitz / Alamy

6:59AM BST 19 Oct 2014


SIR – Paul Levy traces the “exotic history of fish and chips” and how this became the “emblematic dish of the United Kingdom”.

Fish and chips actually helped ease the hardship experienced by the unemployed during the Great Depression in the Thirties when there wasn’t much food or money to go around.

However, the former chairman of the public health committee in Sunderland did later recall that he opposed the spread of fish and chip shops at the time because they were often “dirty rooms with primitive equipment and doubtful frying oil”.

He said they smelled unpleasant and he thought they were unhygienic, but conceded that the fish and chip shop played its part in providing cheap, tasty meals.

Peter Myers
Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire

Owen Paterson will say that the Government’s plan to slash carbon emissions is fatally flawed Photo: AFP

7:00AM BST 19 Oct 2014


SIR – Unfortunately, arguments made by Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, about the Climate Change Act will fall on deaf ears in Government.

The current Environment Secretary, Ed Davey, will not listen to reason and the Scottish government has over-ridden local authority planning decisions and the wishes of a significant percentage of the population to plaster Scotland with expensive and inefficient wind turbines, despite Scotland having huge quantities of water available for hydropower and thousands of tonnes of coal still to be mined.

Peter J Fitch
Lhanbryde, Morayshire

SIR – Three cheers for Mr Paterson. At last a senior politician is speaking out about the impossibility of reaching the target of an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, without shutting down most British businesses and putting the lights out.

Moreover, it would not make a jot of difference to climate change when no other country has such stringent, legally binding targets and many countries have no targets at all.

Rodney Tate
Swineshead, Bedfordshire

SIR – Mr Paterson has got himself into an intellectual jumble. The Climate Change Act is studiously technology-neutral and does not mandate the use of renewable or any other energy. It sets a legal framework for governments to establish emission objectives, on time scales that help strategic planning for and by industries.

It is always easy to favour alternative technologies that have not yet faced the realities of deployment on a large scale, as Mr Paterson does modular nuclear power, but it is unclear why he assumes this would be any more viable, cheaper, cleaner or more socially acceptable than existing options.

Michael Grubb
London WC1

SIR – As a Green Party candidate, I find it fascinating to watch the Tory Right and Ukip rail against efforts to rein in dangerous climate change.

If we burn the amount of carbon the likes of Owen Paterson and Nigel Farage want us to, we will be complicit in causing unprecedented human migration as millions flee newly hostile climates. This would lead to a drastic increase in the pressure on our own borders.

Dr Rupert Read

SIR – Mr Paterson may have some good ideas, but switching off the fridge for two hours at a time would not save energy – you cannot cheat the physics.

A finite quantity of energy is needed to cool or heat a finite mass through a finite temperature range. Intermittency cannot change this – when the fridge is switched on again, it will use the rest of the energy to catch up from where it left off.

The only way to reduce fridge energy is to raise the chilling temperature on the thermostat, but this could compromise food safety.

Any saving is somewhat illusory anyway since the heat the fridge takes from its contents is usually delivered into its surroundings, thus reducing heating costs.

James Wraight
Chatham, Kent

SIR – In his party conference speech, Ed Miliband made a commitment to take all of the carbon out of our electricity by 2030.

In reality the more wind and solar capacity we install, the more back-up capacity we will need for when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. This cannot be supplied by nuclear power, because it cannot just be switched on and off.

Where does Mr Miliband propose to source this back-up power if not in gas and other fossil fuels?

Paul Homewood
Stocksbridge, West Yorkshire

SIR – While we install 14W lightbulbs in our homes to save a few ounces of carbon, some people are preparing for a jolly jaunt into space for fun.

Ralph Hardy
Wokingham, Berkshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Dr Anthony White (“Wind is not a solution to our renewable energy problem”, Opinion & Analysis, October 15th) makes the case that burning wood pellet “sustainable biomass” instead of coal at Ireland’s largest C02 emitting power plant at Moneypoint “would meet Ireland’s renewable targets in one fell swoop”. Dr White advises the group Re Think Pylons and his arguments on Moneypoint are also used by Wind Aware and other groups campaigning against Ireland’s current renewable targets through wind energy.

Absent from Dr White’s and much of the anti-pylon, anti-turbine arguments promoting biomass import is the recognition of the imperative to promote a global strategy of energy demand reduction, efficiency and decarbonisation, including supporting wind energy in strategically appropriate locations.

A biomass power plant has already been granted permission in Killala, Co Mayo, relying on import of timber from Canada and the US. Bord na Móna is already burning some biomass in its Edenderry peat power plant, including imported palm kernels. This nominally reduces Irish emissions, but causes multiple adverse impacts in other countries.

Importing biomass from a highly carbon polluting country, such as the US, is not a sustainable solution to get a notional reduction in Irish emission under current EU carbon accounting rules. Furthermore the production and cultivation of different types of biomass are not carbon neutral, as they have a land use, transportation and environmental impact.

Mass-burning biomass for power generation without heat-loss recovery is inefficient in energy return. Forest thinnings are used in Sweden and Austria in combined heat and power (CHP) plants or for district heating schemes, but this is a finite source. The part conversion of coal-burning plants, such as Drax, England, to imported timber is being strongly opposed by environmental organisations in Britain on grounds of carbon and deforestation impact.

Ireland needs a rapid peat and fossil fuel exit strategy, combined with massive efficiency investment in a range of indigenously sourced or generated renewables. Moneypoint needs to close as soon as possible, but switching from coal to imported biomass does not stand up to scientific and economic evaluation. – Yours, etc,


An Taisce, Dublin 8.

Sir, – For some time now I have noted a tendency by The Irish Times to highlight the conditions of direct provision for asylum seekers and more generally to advocate for greater openness in the treatment of migrants of all categories into Ireland. Laudable as it may be in general terms to underscore the protection of the human rights of all who land on our shores through whatever means, I cannot but be very disappointed at the failure to even discuss the case for limits on migration, as the great majority of “mature” first world nations now do. It is almost as if once again Ireland wants to pretend that this is a global trend that we as a small “friendly” nation can somehow ignore or cope with, no matter what the scale.

It would seem reasonable to expect The Irish Times would provide a balanced forum to debate what is fundamentally a key public policy with the most profound social and financial consequences for the years ahead. Nor is it sufficient to occasionally publish the odd disgruntled missive from an outlier to the argument.

In the absence of informed, rational voices with enough expertise or courage to comment on this matter here at home, then please locate those analysts from other countries who might provide factual evidence upon which may be advanced alternative theses on the desirability or otherwise for future policy development on migration.

Ireland provides a route to a passport far less onerous than most other countries.

Contrary to popular discourse in the media, a strong argument can be made that the essential cohesion of nation state societies needs the glue of cultural homogeneity to some degree. Otherwise as can be seen in Britain to a large extent, we are nothing more than a collection of economic units operating entirely alone within delineated class structures designed to funnel the allocation of wealth, status and capital. Perhaps Ireland has gone down that road already but others will argue that aspects of our culture are still distinct, but will only remain so for as long as our ethnicity remains intact, vibrant and different to the rest of the world. Can sociologists not discuss this on your pages?

Certain parts of Dublin (such as Lucan, Tallaght, Blanchardstown and some inner-city areas) now carry the greatest burden by far of coping with inflows of immigrants.

The consequences are easily seen from similar patterns that have occurred in other jurisdictions, with all the attendant social outcomes. Interesting indeed in this vein, to note from your poll coverage recently, is that Sinn Féin voters were counted among those most in favour of the preservation of direct provision, running counter to the dogma of open border republicanism preached by the leadership of that party.

Ireland might not need a right-wing party as seen in almost every other EU nation to legitimately represent a minority view in this context but it most certainly needs mainstream politicians and national media publications to present all sides of the argument in a reasoned and balanced discourse, and to address adequately the strong concerns of what may be a significant silent majority. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – From memory, albeit somewhat addled by successive years of financial sensory overload, the Universal Social Charge replaced the health and income levies, which were introduced as a temporary measure at a time of national crisis. Now that the economy is more secure and the crisis is over, we should then expect that the Universal Social Charge will be reduced and gradually phased out. It would surely take a cynic to suggest that the Government would hold on to such a device merely as a vehicle to allow it to keep its election promise of not raising income taxes. – Yours, etc,


An Uaimh,

Co na Mhí.

Sir, – After Budget 2015, primary schools will have just €170 per child per year to pay for heating, electricity, water, waste disposal, insurance, cleaning, toilet rolls, hand towels, maintenance of buildings, maintenance and replacement of equipment, postage, telephone and texting, office and classroom consumables, photocopying, printer ink, first aid supplies, banking fees, security, school tours, staff training, school projects and all the other items that need to be paid for just to keep the school open and functioning.

This is less than €1 per day per child.

Even less again when you consider that primary schools pay VAT at the full rates on everything.

Can you help inform the families of Ireland that the voluntary contribution asked for by some schools is a financial necessity nowadays and along with the compulsory property tax and water fees, families should now budget for a “voluntary tax” to help fund the primary schools their children attend?

Depending on the amount of the “voluntary tax” families choose to give, we could have a discussion on investing in our children, but for now I’m just referring to paying the bills. – Yours, etc,



Galway Educate Together

National School.

Sir, – To resist unsound changes to the Junior Cycle being imposed by Government, ASTI and TUI members have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action, up to and including strike action if necessary. In addition to the clear opposition of teachers themselves to school-based assessment, a national opinion poll last May showed that the majority of the public are opposed to teachers correcting their own students’ work for certification purposes.

Our main areas of opposition to Junior Cycle changes relate to the planned removal of national certification and external assessment, both of which provide status and credibility to the assessment process.

Such credibility is linked with the high level of public trust in our education system. Indeed, a recent OECD survey placed Ireland first among countries measured for public confidence in their education system. We are also opposed to the imposition of further pressure on the capacity of schools to provide a quality education service in the wake of several years of austerity cuts, none of which were reversed in this year’s budget.

Furthermore, it is clear that proposed changes to subject provision will have detrimental effects on the quality of education for students. Certain subjects such as CSPE, history and geography will be downgraded to optional status.

Such detrimental change will hinder the development of students as informed and active citizens. Sustainable and real educational reform requires teacher support and public confidence. We call on the Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan to engage with us on this basis. – Yours, etc,


President, ASTI,

Thomas McDonagh House,

Dublin 8;





Dublin 6.

Sir, – During a recent Seanad Éireann debate on the 1916 centenary, members referred to the “radical” nature of the Proclamation, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú in particular quoting the “cherishing all the children of the nation” phrase (“Ó Murchú warns against politically divisive debate on 1916 commemoration”, Seanad Report, October 16th).

The social-radical aspect of the Proclamation should not be exaggerated. The chief emphasis (as one would expect from an IRB manifesto) was on independence and sovereignty. Guaranteeing citizens’ liberties, and “equal rights and equal opportunities”, takes up only a line or two, and there is no mention of a social programme, still less a cultural one.

In this respect, the Proclamation is sometimes confused with the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil in 1919, which is the real children’s charter and which should be credited with articulating, in some detail, the aspiration to human rights and social justice in revolutionary Ireland.

Moreover, it is clear from the context of the Proclamation that the oft-quoted (but widely misunderstood) phrase, “cherishing all the children of the nation equally ”, has nothing to do with justice for the young or social equality but rather with bridging the historic divide between Protestant and Catholic, planter and Gael, unionist and nationalist. – Yours, etc,


Emeritus Professor

of Irish History,

University College Cork.

Sir, – The problem for David McConnell (October 13th) and Seamus McKenna (October 14th) is their limitation of allowable evidence to that which can be repeated under laboratory conditions. Anything of a metaphysical or non-reproducible or subjective nature is simply not accepted as evidence. However, I am absolutely certain that both hold views on many questions which cannot be verified by scientific means, not because the technology has not been invented yet but because they are issues of a different type. – Yours, etc,


Shankill, Dublin 18.

A chara, – David McConnell writes with an eye-watering certitude that would make a pontiff blush “people made God, not vice versa”. He overlooks two realities shared by both believer and non-believer.

The atheist can no more categorically prove that God does not exist than can the theist prove the opposite. Were this not so, no sane person would believe other than what had been incontrovertibly proven. Further, both religion and science reach a point of faith in explaining existence. Science, with its rigorous methodology of cause and effect, responds to the question of how the material that caused the Big Bang originated with an answer that is tantamount to faith – it just was “there”. – Is mise,


Nutley Road,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – David McConnell again exposes the contradictions of the allegedly “humanist” claim that “nothing exists beyond the empirical realm”. Admitting that humanists, like everyone else, recognise the “phenomena of truth and falsehood, good and evil”, he tries to limit these phenomena to the merely empirical. To say that “we decide for ourselves what is true or false, good or evil” is a trivialisation of these phenomena, as if truth and the good never imposed themselves with undeniable authority on our minds and consciences. “The daunting moral dilemmas we face in the modern world, especially in my own field of genetics” would not be daunting at all if one did not believe in non-empirical values such as human dignity and freedom. To say that we live in a world invented by humankind is to miss the powerful presence of things that humans clearly did not invent, beginning with being itself.

Prof McConnell’s complaints against historical Christianity – Giordano Bruno, Galileo, “a church which assures us that women are lesser creatures than men” – is that it failed to “distinguish truth and falsity, good and evil”. But in making that judgment he is again subscribing to the trans-empirical reality of truth and the good. Otherwise what is to prevent one from saying that people can “decide for themselves” whether the Earth goes round the sun or vice versa, and whether it’s acceptable to persecute freethinkers and discriminate against women? Let’s decide by rational argument, not by blind faith, he would say, but this again recognises the reality of reason, something that is clearly much more than a human invention or a merely empirical datum. – Yours, etc,


Sophia University,


Sir, – Further to the recent debate concerning RTÉ’s plans to stop broadcasting on longwave, it is worth noting that in the event of a national emergency, important information concerning civil defence would be given to the public by radio as this is the most effective medium of communication for all the public, especially via battery-powered portable radios.

Neither the internet, digital radio, mobile phone nor TV services can be relied upon in an emergency due to limited access, bandwidth congestion and reception difficulties.

Many people do not possess portable digital radios but every cheap portable radio, ideal for emergency use, has either medium wave (AM) or longwave (LW), together with VHF (FM).

Longwave is unsurpassed in its ability to penetrate steel-framed buildings, deep valleys, underground carparks and rail or road tunnels, the places where the public might be expected to congregate.

It is the duty of RTÉ is to provide a public service as well as entertainment. If RTÉ wants to save money, it could consider ending TV transmissions after midnight that cater for a very limited audience. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I recently made an online request for my Irish Water account number. I received a politely worded response indicating it was not possible to supply this information by email for data protection reasons. Perfectly acceptable. However, the email concluded, “Sorry for any incontinence caused”. Am I entitled to have my “leak” repaired for free? – Yours, etc,


Donnybrook, Dublin 4.

Irish Independent:

Doesn’t anything relating to politics make for depressing reading of late? Who can we trust? What direction are we going? And – most importantly for the Irish – who can we blame?! Fianna Fail brought us the biggest harvest. We lorded it, spent too much, made bad decisions and lost it all. The result? Boot them out.

Fine Gael were elected on a landslide by promising to change the way politics works and were prepared to make the hard decisions. Austerity was here. They stuck to the Brian Lenihan four-year plan and had the balls to implement it. We did not get to the Promised Land, but we seem to be on high enough ground to see it.

Unfortunately we – the “great unwashed” – don’t see it that way, we have enough of austerity. Result, kick them out and make way for the “Shinners” and Independents. The Shinners will abolish water rates and the household charge, but are like the bold schoolboy who copied his homework – they have the answer, but can’t explain the mathematics that got him there.

The Independents seem to have inhaled too much of what was exhaled by a former colleague and will be happy doing a “Jackie Healy-Rae” deal when the time comes. Sure, you have to look after number one. Back at square one again, nothing learned!

Well, I’m off to bed now, already tired of the word politics. I hope I’ll fall into a nice deep sleep listening to the therapeutic sound of rainwater slowing filling up my toilet cistern. Meanwhile, the rest of you run around like a flock of frightened sheep looking for a gap in the ditch which will lead you to the promised land.

If you want to know who destroyed this country then just look in the mirror. Until Ireland and its politicians have the maturity to properly analyse its problems and explain the solutions (and we, the people of Ireland, have the confidence in our parliament to implement them) we’re all fecked.

Through all of Ireland’s troubles the only ones that remained in situ were the senior civil servants who advised the government/schoolteachers what to do and, indeed, are still doing it. It is they who run the country.

Thank God, we Irish have someone left to blame. I think Mark Twain had those very people in mind when he said “they would never have given us the vote if they thought it made any difference”.

Eugene McGuinness

Kilkenny city

No light for Death Row inmates

In her column (Irish Independent, October 18) Mary Kenny tells us that in Texas, where they still have the death penalty, the ‘last cigarette’ for a condemned prisoner is now prohibited on heath and safety grounds.

A clear sign that smoking can be a death sentence?

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9

Legacy of Cumann na mBan

In reply to James Woods (Irish Independent, October 16) Cumann na mBan supported a regime change that, when it took place, denied them their human rights. The right to work in the civil service was changed, the old age pension was reduced for women, the right to divorce and contraceptives were removed as was the right to serve on juries. Farms were taken off unmarried women.

All this was happening in a context of improving human rights in Britain. The welfare state was enacted with free education and free health. Cumann na mBan had poor vision and poor spirit not to fight for their human rights. As regards Constance Markievicz, she had the heart of a lion and the brains of a sheep.

The big oppressor is ignorance. We need revolutionaries to help us to keep pace in a hi-tech race, by making superior products by innovative methods to bring prosperity to the country.

People with an economic vision know that a nation is only an imagined community. A significant economic unit in a creative scientific interdependent world would have been the unity of Britain and the US. All significant innovations were Anglo-American. The cure for TB and polio came from this creative scientific community and their use in Ireland was delayed by sectarian bigotry. Thousands died or were maimed as a consequence.

Kate Casey

Limerick city

Help our children, minister

An open letter to Jan O’Sullivan, Minister for Education and Skills.

We are parents of children who attend St Michael’s House Special National School in Baldoyle. This school caters for children who are severely and profoundly disabled.

Last July, we were shocked and dismayed to hear there would be a further cut to teaching staff and to the number of special needs assistants (SNA) in this school. As I am sure you are aware, this school lost a teacher in each of the last three years. Children who attend this school not only have severe to profound intellectual disabilities, but many also have severe to profound physical disabilities and other highly-complex needs.

Much of the school day is taken up with personal care such as PEG feeding (tube feeding), toileting, dealing with seizures, hoisting, ensuring the safety of the mobile children, repositioning of children throughout the day and dealing with various medical issues.

This takes up most, if not all, of the SNAs’ time. As a result, the teachers are trying to teach our children in groups. Ideally, the vast majority of pupils who attend this school need intensive and discrete 1:1 teaching time if they are to attend, learn and achieve their individual education plan goals.

Along with many others, we wrote to you during the summer about this situation. At the time our letters were forwarded to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) for their attention.

The NCSE then replied to us that – in their advice paper published in May 2013 entitled “Supporting Students with Special Needs in Schools” – they had recommended that special schools for severe/profound learning disabilities should be allowed to establish one class group on a pupil-teacher ratio of 4:1 (Section 27.2). The NCSE submitted this policy advice to the Minister for Education and Skills in 2013. To date, this recommendation has clearly been ignored.

Regarding the cuts to the number of special needs assistants in the school, we are now extremely worried about the health and safety impact of this on our children. As a result of the cuts to SNA numbers, there are now larger groups of children in each classroom.

We are extremely worried that the logistics of this is unworkable for these severely/profoundly-disabled children. To give you just one example, a mobile child can pull a feeding tube from a more vulnerable child.

It has been announced in last week’s Budget that there will be an additional 1,700 teacher and SNA posts created. In light of this, we are asking you to please reverse the appalling decision regarding the loss of a teacher and special needs assistants from this school.

Can you tell us please if the lost teachers and SNAs will be reinstated? And, if not, can you please outline to us how you intend to maintain both health and safety and educational standards in this school?

We would very much welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with you.

Fiona Murphy Anna Hayes

Representing Parents’ Association of St Michael’s House Special National School, Baldoyle, Dublin 13

Irish Independent


October 19, 2014

19 October 2014 Books

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I manage to sell three books

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Sir John Bradfield – obituary

Sir John Bradfield was the financial brain who transformed the fortunes of Trinity College, Cambridge

Sir John Bradfield

Sir John Bradfield

6:00PM BST 18 Oct 2014


SIR JOHN BRADFIELD, who has died aged 89, was an outstandingly successful and enterprising college bursar who turned Trinity College, Cambridge, into the richest of all the Oxbridge colleges, while kick-starting what has become known as the “Cambridge Phenomenon” — the explosion of technology, life sciences and service companies that has occurred in the city since the 1970s — by founding Europe’s first “science park”.

Under his predecessor, Tressilian Nicholas, the focus of Trinity’s investment portfolio had been agricultural land. After Bradfield stepped into his shoes in 1956, the college increased the percentage of its capital held in equities and pursued a strategic move towards commercial property development.

The foundation for Trinity’s huge financial success in the following years was the acquisition by Nicholas in 1933 of the Trimley estate of nearly 3,800 acres in Suffolk, along the road from Ipswich to the then derelict port of Felixstowe. Nicholas thought that the estate might become valuable for housing development; but as the port, free from the stranglehold of the old Dock Labour Scheme, began to develop in the early 1960s under new ownership, Bradfield surmised that, with Trinity’s help, it could become a competitor to Rotterdam and Le Havre.

He borrowed money to put up buildings to let on part of the estate, and, after helping to fight off nationalisation plans by the Labour administration in the 1970s, made use of his contacts book to persuade Margaret Thatcher’s government to introduce enabling legislation, setting in motion a process which has seen Felixstowe develop, mostly on Trinity-owned land, into Britain’s largest container port.

At around the same time, inspired by the latest thinking in America on how to foster links between universities and industry, he conceived the idea – revolutionary at the time – of establishing a “science park”, on a 140-acre farm just north of Cambridge that the college had owned since the time of Henry VIII.

The Napp building at the Cambridge Science Park

The notion was enthusiastically received by Harold Wilson, the prime minister, and by his technology minister Tony Benn, who was pressing the universities to commercialise their research.

Founded in 1970, the Cambridge Science Park started slowly as Bradfield, working closely with Sir Francis Pemberton of the property consultants Bidwells, struggled to get it up and running in the depths of the early 1970s economic gloom. By 1978 only seven companies had signed up for premises.

However, the development gathered momentum in the 1980s, with tenants ranging from small software companies created by groups of graduates from the university’s computing and engineering departments, to multinational firms such as Schlumberger and IBM, keen to establish what Bradfield described as “listening posts” tuned into research being carried out in the university’s laboratories.

By 2010, when the park celebrated its 40th anniversary, it could boast nearly 100 firms employing more than 5,000 people.

During Bradfield’s time as Trinity bursar, from 1956 to 1992, when retail prices increased 12 times, the college’s external revenue rose nearly 80-fold, from £200,000 to £15.3 million, while the value of shares in its trust fund increased nearly 30 times. In the early 1950s Trinity had been lagging behind King’s in the college wealth tables. By 2006 the college’s external revenue was £33 million, while King’s had dropped to third place (lagging behind St John’s) with £4.1 million.

When Rab Butler was Master of Trinity, he liked to boast that the college’s new-found wealth had enabled it to harbour as many Nobel prizewinners as in the whole of France. Among other things, it financed major college extension plans which more than doubled the size of the college.

Trinity Great Court: Bradfield increased college revenue by 80 times

But Bradfield was keen to reassure Trinity’s rivals that the money would benefit the university more generally. In 1964, together with the bursars of St John’s and Caius, he was instrumental in the foundation of Darwin College, to meet the need for more fellowships and better accommodation for graduate students. In 1988, at a time of cutbacks in higher education funding, Trinity established the Newton Trust, a multi-million-pound fund to help the university’s research costs and student scholarships.

John Richard Grenfell Bradfield was born in Cambridge on May 20 1925 and educated at Cambridge and County High School for Boys, from where he won a scholarship to Trinity to read Natural Sciences. He went on to take a PhD, and was appointed to a research fellowship in cell biology. In one of his studies he borrowed his mother’s chickens to elucidate how the eggshell is secreted within the adult hen, and became the first to report that the shell forms with the sharp end nearest the exit, before rotating 180 degrees just before laying. Other work included protein synthesis and secretion in the silk glands of caterpillars and spiders, and plant enzymes. He would no doubt have gone on to a distinguished career as a biologist had he not accepted the job of college bursar, which he took in 1956 after serving as junior bursar for five years.

As well as his investments at Felixstowe and the Cambridge Science Park, in the 1960s Bradfield purchased land in Kent, which was developed into a business and science park within easy reach of the Channel Tunnel. The huge success of his investments allowed him to be sanguine when Trinity was named as one of the biggest losers from the collapse of Polly Peck in 1990. While admitting to being somewhat irritated, Bradfield could reassure his colleagues that it would not mean “soup at High Table”.

Bradfield served as the first chairman of the Addenbrooke’s NHS Trust, from 1993 to 1997, and as last chairman of the Commission for New Towns. He was also a founding trustee of the Fund for Addenbrooke’s (now the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust).

John Bradfield was appointed CBE in 1986 and knighted in 2007.

He married, in 1951, Jane Wood, who survives him with their son.

Sir John Bradfield, born May 20 1925, died October 13 2014


King's Cross railway station in London United Kingdom King’s Cross station in its new glory. Photograph: Iain Masterton /Alamy

I enjoyed Rowan Moore’s article (“All hail the new King’s Cross – but can other developers repeat the trick?”, New Review) with its enthusiastic support for the approach adopted by the developer Argent. There is merit in the simple, robust architecture but I’m with Michael Edwards in wishing there was more for the community.

Although the article did acknowledge the role of Camden’s planners since 2000, the new King’s Cross now emerging owes much to the work of these planners over several decades, reaching back to the 1970s. I am thinking of the influence they had on the appearance of the British Library, the efforts they made (along with others) to bring the St Pancras Midland hotel back to use, the sheer hard work they put into the parliamentary bills necessary to make St Pancras the Eurostar terminus, their dogged pursuit of the need to create a new transport interchange and remove the hideous booking office in front of King’s Cross station to reveal its beautiful facade and create a new square.

I was director of planning (and later environment) from 1986-96 and remember meetings I had with Central St Martins College to encourage it to come to King’s Cross along with other cultural and educational activities. My point is that the success or otherwise of the development of an area as complex and sensitive as King’s Cross cannot be attributed solely to the developer, community groups or planners who happen to be there when things eventually emerge. There have been some truly brilliant Camden planners and politicians, far too many to mention, who have left their mark on King’s Cross. They know who they are.

David Pike

London N5

Really cross about Crossrail

On principle, I don’t really mind that our transport system has been “renationalised” (“Dutch and Germans pocket benefits while British taxpayers are being taken for a ride”, Business). After all, the Dutch, German and French beneficiaries are compatriots in the European Union and we must be able to share in any general prosperity that results. I draw the line, however, at Crossrail being operated by MTR Corporation, owned by that exemplar of freedom and democracy, the government of the special administrative region of Hong Kong. You couldn’t make it up.

David Jackson



My Liverpool northern soul

No argument, northern soul was established and popularised in Wigan during the 1970s (“My life as a northern soul boy: flashback to rebellion on the 1970s dancefloor”, New Review). However, living in Liverpool at the age of 18, I can remember going to dances at Reeces ballroom in Parker Street that were a prototype form of northern soul. There was no evident DJ and the records played were American black R&B, Motown or soul, including Martha and the Vandellas, Dancing in the Street and Heatwave and Twist and Shout by the Isley Brothers. Unlike other dance events I attended, young black men were very much in evidence. They had enviable dance moves, including moonwalk. Unfortunately, there were no black girls at these dances, possibly due to parental authority at the time.

Jack Eaton

Pont Robert, Meifod

Don’t judge all priests by one

It is a pity that Catherine Deveney (The View From…, Comment) takes such a myopic view of the first few days of the synod in Rome. Yes, the “rightwing” (her words) Cardinal Burke says “no” to parents of a gay son who asks whether he can invite his partner to Christmas dinner. Apart from the fact that ordinary Catholic laity are invited to address this synod and voice their questions on many sexual issues, I would suspect that other cardinals and bishops at the synod might take an alternative view from Cardinal Burke. Pope Francis has been quoted on such issues, saying that we can never judge.

John Southworth


We need debates on class

How refreshing to see the word “class” mentioned in an article (“Who cares about normal women’s work-life balance?”, Comment). In the good old 70s and 80s, we discussed inequalities in sex, race, sexuality and class. It seems “class” issues went out of vogue somewhere along the way with the Blair years. It’s not a north/south divide – it’s a class divide; many women do have material equality but very many on low wages do not. Maybe if we had kept real and honest debates on “class” simmering, the political landscape might not be in the mess it is now!

Debbie Cameron


You’re not selling it very well

Francis Ingham, of the Public Relations Consultants Association, seeks to demonstrate the value of the PR “industry” by claiming that the average salary in it is £54,000 pa. (Letters). At a time of pay freezes for health workers, this seems to display a strange lack of self-awareness.

Better PR required, I think.

John Old



nigel farage Nigel Farage’s party seems to some voters a viable alternative in their disenchantment with the mainstream parties. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Observer

Sarah Wollaston was elected MP for Totnes in May 2010 after winning the UK’s first American-style primary election – open to every voter in Totnes – for the Conservative candidacy. Four years later, there has been no movement on getting “real people” elected (“Ukip has risen on the back of broken politics”, leading article).

Labour is entrenched in its old ways. A growing number of politicians on all sides seem to have slid into politics via public relations, short-lived media jobs and thinktanks. Few of them appear to have got their hands dirty working in manufacturing, agriculture, services or not-for-profit work.

This lack of “real” world experience and an informed view of how people live creates a lack of empathy with the electorate. Reinforce this with the culture of parliament that engenders delusions of adequacy and power that inevitably corrupts sensibility. Then add to this lethal cocktail the continuing downward trajectory of the turnout of the electorate and you will end up with politicians pinning the blame on someone else, usually the other party, and when that fails, the electorate.

The malaise and its treatment rests entirely with the politicians to provide a dynamic for positive political reform where it counts – at the ballot box.

Chris Hodgkins

London W13

I share the alienation from Westminster politics of Ukip supporters. Cameron richly deserves his acute discomfort. He has been throwing the “red meat” of reheated Thatcherism at the ultra-rightwing since 2010. This has simply whetted their appetite for more. The Lib Dems, whom I supported repeatedly in my Tory/Lib Dem marginal constituency, have lost all credibility with their duplicity and stupidity in giving the Tories the opportunity, without a mandate, to shrink the state, privatise public services and immiserate the most vulnerable.

This ought to be an open goal for Labour but their leadership is woeful and lack a coherent centre/left populist agenda that would bring potential voters, like myself, back in droves. This agenda requires a clean break with the discredited neoliberal narrative that has deformed Britain since 1979.

It should include the renationalisation of rail, energy and water and an end to being ripped off by the City and corporate capital. Until Labour is led by someone with passion and character, such as Margaret Hodge, Alan Johnson or Andy Burnham, it will continue to drift towards the electoral rocks.

Philip Wood



Analyses of the Ukip phenomenon are of value, but a serious probe at Labour’s grassroots yields a more straightforward historic explanation. In the heady and somewhat juvenile early days of New Labour it was often understood, and I have actually heard it said: “We don’t need to bother about the working class, the less well off or sink-estate votes because they’ll have to stick with Labour, they’ve nowhere else to go.”

Unfortunately for self-righteousness, time passes. Loyalties fade as new generations arise. Politicians start to look all the same – and ordinary folk find that there is, after all, somewhere else to go. The politically vigorous in Scotland turned to independence. The ignored in the rest of the UK turn to Ukip. This can be cured, but only by a once-for-all abandonment of the top-down PR-style politics of the last 20 years and a fully-blown democracy of the people themselves, a vigorous, even passionate electorate that includes the sink estates as well as those who travel business class.

Can Ed Miliband do it? Hand on heart, I believe he is the very best man for the job: his background, his intelligence and his heart tell me so.

Ian Flintoff

(former Labour parliamentary candidate and Kensington councillor)



I’m not sure in what sense Jamie Merrill finds it “refreshing” that Natalie Bennett is open about describing herself as a “watermelon” (Interview, 12 October). Is it refreshing that the party is becoming red rather than green, or refreshing that what looks like duplicity is being revealed?

This is one side of a trend in environmental politics which should alarm us all. That is the false association of environmentalist concerns with one or other of the left-right wings of traditional politics. While the Green Party continues to raise the issue of climate change, there is an increasing push to blame capitalism and see the solution as socialism. This plays into the hands of the climate-change deniers who want people to believe that climate change is a myth dreamed up as part of a socialist plot.

At the same time, the Green Party has abandoned any pretence of tackling population growth – a primary green concern – and its connection with ecological sustainability, apparently because to do so would require a more nuanced approach to migration than shouting “racism”, thus a central green concern is treated as if it was a preserve of the right. The world’s environmental problems belong at the centre of politics. Their answers lie in realism and practicalities, not in the outdated dogma of left/right politics.

Christopher Padley


Patrick Cockburn misses the context of President Obama’s “plan” (“US strategy in tatters as Isis marches on,” 12 October). Obama has no intention of destroying Islamic State (Isis). Rather, he is engaging in deception to prevent a pincer’s pinch on election day (4 November) that will cause his Democratic Party to lose its Senate majority. One arm of the pincer is the Americans who know that General David Petraeus masterminded victory in Iraq, and President Obama threw it away by not leaving soldiers there to guarantee the peace. He thinks bombing Isis will placate these voters.

The other arm is a large segment of the Democratic Party that rejects US intervention anywhere. President Obama does not want to turn off these voters by engaging in serious military action in Iraq and Syria.

Scott Varland

Purley, Greater London

How can you compare food prices based on the cost per calorie (Ellen E Jones, 12 October)? Healthy food by its nature is generally lower in calories then junk food, so 1,000 calories’ worth of broccoli is going to cost more than 1,000 calories of junk food. I don’t understand how this draws the conclusion healthy food is rising in price faster than junk food.

Alison Wood


Years ago, along with other proud parents, I was invited to hear our children play their musical offerings for their GCSEs. Sitting through Mozart, Beethoven and so on applauded to the roof, my daughter’s rendering of the Twin Peaks theme was met with the same reaction the show had, bewilderment. Twin Peaks and my daughter were obviously ahead of their time. A remake (Simmy Richman, 12 October) will never recapture the magic!

Mary Hodgson


I am surprised that Bill Granger’s autumn-fruit recipes feature fruits already out of season. Blueberries and plums are long finished, even autumn raspberries have come to the end of their season. Blackberries in October are known as the “fruit of the Devil” and elderberries by now are only fit for the birds.

Jo Burrill

Hexham, Northumberland

It was not Oscar Wilde’s testimony “against the Marquess of Queensberry” that consisted of “absurd and silly perjuries”, as you incorrectly quoted me as saying (Letters, 12 October). The “absurd and silly perjuries” Wilde subsequently referred to were the lies he told when he denied under cross-examination that he had had sexual relations with various youths who had given statements to Queensberry’s solicitors.

Antony Edmonds

Waterlooville, Hampshire



Workers from other European states fill many important roles, including barista, for the minimum wage Photo: Jeff Gilbert

6:56AM BST 18 Oct 2014


SIR – Amid the clamour to restrict immigration fuelled by the Rochester by-election, one thing seems to have been forgotten. Indigenous Britons simply do not want to do the jobs so willingly occupied by those from other European states for the minimum wage.

Who will clean our public lavatories, serve refreshments in countless coffee joints, take menial but important jobs in nursing homes or harvest vegetables in the fields of Lincolnshire?

If foreign labour is excluded from categories of work that silently keep the country going, we will all pay a heavy price.

Peter Mahaffey
Cardington, Bedfordshire

Paying for the NHS

SIR – It is a common misconception that the NHS is paid for out of National Insurance contributions (Letters, October 16). Access to NHS treatment is based on residency, not on NI contributions.

It is for this very reason that visitors to Britain should (unless benefiting from certain exemptions) be obliged to pay for any treatment they receive – particularly for expensive operations and for pre-existing conditions. That the NHS does not recoup much of the payment owed depletes the coffers of much-needed revenue.

Liz Edmunds
Hassocks, West Sussex

SIR – Letters from my NHS hospital consultant now include the date when they were dictated. From this, I can work out that it takes at least three weeks for a letter to be typed and posted.

Apparently it isn’t clinical and nursing pressures that cause long waiting times, but the inability to run an office.

Dr Stephen Bell
Woodbridge, Suffolk

On the one hand

SIR – When my father was at primary school early in the last century, he received several smacks for being left-handed but persevered. However, he lost his left arm in a road accident and so became right-handed.

While the Duke of Cambridge may claim that all the cleverest people are left-handed, I would argue that the brightest are ambidextrous. Like the cricketer David Gower, I bat and deal cards with my left hand, mainly write right-handed and use a screwdriver with whichever hand can best get at the screw.

Duncan Wood
Bean, Kent

SIR – I would like to explain the difficulties for a rightie married to a leftie.

My husband is certainly a leftie when it comes to hanging clothes in the wardrobe, making it difficult to get an item out since the hook is the wrong way round, and he always has the boiling kettle turned so that steam drifts into the shelves above.

Dancing has always been impossible as he wants to grab my left hand and turn me in a difficult manoeuvre, which takes the edge off my excellent moves.

Rosemary Almond
Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire

By any other name

SIR – Though divorced I retain my married name (Letters, October 17), because I have held it for longer than my maiden name and therefore it is who I am. Should I marry again, then maybe I will have a change of heart and surname.

Reverting after 30 years of marriage seems a very odd thing to do.

Heather M Tanner
Earl Soham, Suffolk

“We have two major problems in Germany – the recession and the long waiting list for a new Mercedes” Photo: Alamy

6:57AM BST 18 Oct 2014


SIR – I find Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s views on Germany’s apparent economic woes difficult to reconcile with my impressions as a resident of Germany.

After much infrastructure investment in eastern Germany, attention has again turned westward. Ambitious projects, such as the high-speed rail link between Frankfurt and Cologne, are finished – albeit usually late and over budget.

When I moved here in 1991, Germany was apparently in a recession. My then-boss told me: “Yes, we have two major problems in Germany – the recession and the long waiting list for a new Mercedes. Don’t worry about it.”

Matthew Whittall
Schönaich, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Jobs for the disabled

SIR – If it costs an employer the same whoever does the job, why would they employ someone less able (Letters, October 17)?

It is a social welfare issue and should not be outsourced to the private sector. But it can go too far: the Government’s own figures suggest that each job in the state’s disabled enterprise, Remploy, costs the taxpayer £25,000.

Ian Johnson
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Imported road kill

SIR – Frances Evans writes of suicidal pheasants on the roads.

Many poults are raised in France before being shipped to these shores for sport. Perhaps road manners picked up on the Continent ultimately contribute to their death in Britain.

Nicholas Sherriff
London SW11

A local Liberian artist paints a mural forming part of the countrys fight against the deadly Ebola virus by education in the city of Monrovia, Liberia Photo: AP

6:59AM BST 18 Oct 2014


SIR – Fraser Nelson (Ebola may be gruesome but it’s not the biggest threat to Africa, October 17) states that poverty is the root cause of Africa’s problems.

One of the main reasons for this poverty is the continent’s rapidly increasing population, which continues to outstrip its ability to feed itself. The population in Nigeria has increased by 300 per cent in the last 40 years: that in Ethiopia by 380 per cent. Even developed nations would find it almost impossible to cope with such burgeoning increases.

In order to reduce this poverty, resources must first be concentrated on stabilising the population growth by introducing contraception methods such as vasectomy. As harsh as it sounds, there seems little point in reducing child mortality if children are subsequently to starve. In tandem with birth control, the developed world must invest in agriculture and industry to enable Africans to feed and support themselves.

Such investment ought to be managed by donors as many African leaders are renowned for diverting aid money for their own use, particularly in procuring arms.

It is time that the United Nations managed controlled change instead of just fighting fires.

Tony Ellis
Northwood, Middlesex

SIR – As we now have to face the prospect of the global spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola, we must surely begin to pay even more attention to public hygiene.

When one sees the disgusting state of many of our bank’s hole-in-the-wall cash machines, I do wonder if we are overlooking a potential source of infection.

Should not banks and retailers be obliged by law to clean these devices regularly with a powerful disinfectant?

Richard Mann
Bideford, Devon

SIR – There seems little point in border checks for potential Ebola victims if we proactively import infected patients who then, due to arguably foreseeable errors, infect their carers.

Laurence Williams
Louth, Lincolnshire

The Big Smoke: an anti-rudeness campaign in Marseille’s Saint-Charles railway station  Photo: GERARD JULIEN/AFP/GettyImages

7:00AM BST 18 Oct 2014


SIR – Owing to a medical condition, my husband rarely takes walks. When visiting parks or gardens, he will sit on a bench and have a smoke while I take a short walk around on my own. A ban on smoking in public parks would deny both of us this small pleasure.

If the sight of smokers is considered dangerous for children, then I would argue that they cannot be protected from all dangers in life – encountering them is how they learn to make choices.

Jennifer Edwards
Sidcup, Kent

SIR – Lord Darzi’s proposal to introduce a smoking ban for public areas such as parks is welcome. Children are influenced by the behaviour of adults. Two-thirds of adult smokers admit that they began to smoke before the age of 18, and almost two-fifths before the age of 16.

Some 200,000 children in Britain take up smoking every year – that’s 550 every day – increasing their risk of chest infections and asthma, as well as lung cancer and heart problems later in life.

If we are to help prevent smoking in young people, then changing the environment is essential, but this must be coupled with measures such as high-quality personal, social and health education lessons in schools.

Prof Mitch Blair
Officer for Health Promotion, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
London WC1

SIR – As far as I am aware, smoking is not illegal, unlike many other addictive habits. It may be undesirable and unhealthy, but there are millions of people who are hooked on cigarettes and need them just as much as I need my six mugs of tea a day.

To prevent hospital patients, who are under a lot of stress, from having a quick puff outside the hospital (Letters, October 17) would be cruel.

I used to wheel my mother round the garden of her rehab unit and she looked forward to her daily cigarette in the fresh air. She had smoked since she joined the Army in 1940 and was given her first one.

Incidentally, what did make her give up her six-a-day habit was the cost of a pack of 20 in comparison to what £7.50 would provide for a hungry child in Africa.

Jane O’Nions
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – It’s not the smoke, it’s the filthy fag ends.

S A Langton
London N1

SIR – Why stop at banning smoking in parks and public places? How about closing all pubs, off-licences and wine outlets to stop the exorbitant cost of alcohol abuse?

For that matter, let’s ban all fast-food joints and vending machines, as they contribute to obesity; and why not limit car ownership to essential users, as the automobile causes too much pollution.

Alice Harper
Colchester, Essex

Wit, whimsy – and not a single item about Gordon Brown. It was a bumper year for a collection of unpublished letters to the Telegraph

This year, the sixth in a row, Iain Hollingshead says there is no subject too weighty not to be punctured by the readers’ ready wit

This year, the sixth in a row, Iain Hollingshead says there is no subject too weighty not to be punctured by the readers’ ready wit Photo: Clara Molden/The Telegraph

By Iain Hollingshead

7:20AM BST 18 Oct 2014


Is there a conspiracy to keep women off the letters pages? During the summer, someone counted all the letters to the Financial Times over a three-week period and found that just three were written by women. Frankly, the more surprising revelation was that the pink paper had a letters page. After all, where’s the fun in debating the FTSE compared with swapping tips on how best to swing bowl an unwanted snail into a neighbour’s garden?

There is, of course, no conspiracy. The letters editors at The Daily Telegraph are gender-blind, colour-blind and even county-blind, despite accusations that we only print letters from Dorset. Men are, perhaps, more prone to being gloriously and eccentrically alone in thinking the way they do. They certainly write more often, and at greater length. Yet the criteria for publication are the same whether you’re Lt-Cdr Joe Bloggs (retd) from Blandford Forum, Dorset or Josephine Bloggs from Dobcross, West Yorkshire.

The same goes for the hundreds of letters which, for whatever reason, don’t make the newspaper but appear in the books of previously unpublished letters. This year, the sixth in a row, is, I believe, a particularly bumper crop. There is no subject too weighty not to be punctured by the readers’ ready wit.

This was the year of Putin and Pietersen, Sharon and Suarez, Harris and Holland and, thankfully, for the first time since these books began, not a single letter about Gordon Brown. Whether explaining Ukip’s rise through the horrors of Eurovision or wondering how to insure the Lamborghini on which they might blow their pension pot, one thing is certain: no one has any idea what they will think of next.

Family life and tribulations

SIR – Walking in a Brighton street I was surprised when an elderly lady going in the opposite direction muttered, “You sexy beast.” I am 81. It made my day.

Richard Pitcairn-Knowles, Otford, Kent

SIR – When I married, 48 years ago, my bride and I, as naturists, were clothed as were Adam and Eve. The priest, a fellow naturist, was similarly naked. Give or take the odd wrinkle, our wedding attire has been in daily use as foundation garments, topped invariably, in my case, by a regimental tie.

Lt-Col A. St. John-Grahame (retd), Whitstable, Devon

SIR – I recently celebrated my 60th birthday. My dear wife’s present to me was a new “health band”. Its principal function appears to be to send an alert to my wife’s iPad whenever I sit still for longer than 12 minutes. She assures me this guarantees I will live to a ripe old age. Isn’t progress wonderful?

J.C., London SW6

SIR – For days now you have forecast dark clouds and lightning over Gloucestershire while the weather has been generally sunny and warm. Are you actually forecasting an unplanned visit by my mother-in-law? Please clarify.

Martyn Dymott, Gloucester

SIR – Sex after 50, asks your report? I should say so! My partner and I are in our late seventies and still enjoy a stimulating and fulfilling sex life. Long may it continue!


SIR – Now that my throwing of unwanted garden snails has been curtailed by arthritis, I am considering making a scaled-down medieval trebuchet. Searching in our barn for suitable materials, I came across an old clay pigeon trap. Trials last evening, witnessed by my dog, have proved most effective, with considerable distances achieved.

This method may not be practical for town dwellers. So for those living on the South Coast, could I suggest putting unwanted English snails in strawberry punnets attached to balloons? A brisk prevailing wind should achieve a speedy Channel crossing, possibly sparking off competitive snail flying races and, at the same time, feeding hungry Frenchmen.

Paul Spencer Schofield, Harewood, West Yorkshire

Sporting triumph and disaster

SIR – Just when it appears that matters cannot get any worse, we are subject to the England captain telling us in the post-match press conference that “only Broads and Stokesie came out of the series with any credit”. I despair. Somebody should remind “Cookie” (pictured) that he is in charge of the national team, not the local pub team, and that in the current circumstances a little decorum is required.

Neil Parsons, Laceby, Lincolnshire

SIR – Following the recent embarrassing performances of our national football and cricket teams, is there any way we could swap the sports over, thus playing Sri Lanka at football, and Uruguay and Italy at cricket?

Bob McCallum, Waltham St Lawrence, Berkshire

SIR – Not being in the same room as the television, but well within earshot, I was unsure if I was listening to Wimbledon or Casualty.

John Townshend, South Wootton, Norfolk

SIR – Yorkshire embraced the Tour de France with magnificence: hospitality, friendly atmosphere, beautiful scenery and roads lined with supporters. Cambridge, meanwhile, complained because one road is going to be closed for a few hours. Does this prove once and for all that Northerners are more friendly?

Janice Moss, Altrincham, Cheshire

SIR – The biggest surprise of the English stage of the Tour was that no cyclists were seen on the pavements.

Guy Rose, London SW14

Royal flushes

SIR – Many congratulations to Prince Philip on his 93rd birthday. I see he is going to Germany on Thursday. Where does he get his travel insurance?

Brian Baxter, Oakington, Cambridgeshire

SIR – While watching the Prince of Wales touring the Somerset Levels, I spotted his tie. For the life of me I cannot remember him attending Consett Grammar, but then he must have been four forms above me.

David Laybourne, Ilfracombe, Devon

SIR – We should send Prince Harry to the Antipodes, to prove we can be just as mental as they are, thus preserving the Commonwealth.

David Alsop, Churchdown, Gloucestershire

Anti-social media

SIR – Having endured the Eurovision Song Contest, any remaining doubts I might have had about voting Ukip have now been dispelled.

Allan Kirtley, Valley End, Surrey

Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst of Austria (GETTY)

SIR – In future Eurovision Song Contests, to avoid political voting and expensive razzmatazz, I think the female singer with the best beard should be declared the winner.

Nairn Lawson, Portbury, Somerset

SIR – Both Melita Norwood, the KGB spy, and Rolf Harris were exposed in their early eighties as wicked people. Harris, quite rightly, has felt the full force of the law. Unfairly, Letty, as she was known during her childhood friendship with my Aunt Blanche, was spared police action.

On the other hand, Harris did not have to suffer the ignominy of being crossed off my aunt’s Christmas card list.

Rosemary Earle, Swindon, Wiltshire

SIR – The BBC’s production of Jamaica Inn included, unusually, not one Scottish accent, so I rather enjoyed it.

Paul Downey, Cutwell, Gloucestershire

A year in politics

SIR – A headline states: “Lord Rennard could sue his way back into Lib Dem Party.” Pray, why would he bother?

Colin Cummings, Yelvertoft, Northamptonshire

SIR – Although I hate to admit it, I have to side with EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker when he says David Cameron has no common sense. Cameron may have had an Eton education, but he has zilch up top. No way would I trust him on the battlefield. He would be a disaster.

Lt-Col Dale Hemming-Tayler (retd), Edith Weston, Rutland

SIR – Blow my pension fund on a Lamborghini? I think not. Like most over-55s, even if I could get into one, I certainly wouldn’t be able to get out.

Michael Gilbert, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

The use and abuse of language

SIR – Having just read the letters about waiters saying “Enjoy”, I thought I must tell you that I went into our local cut-price chemists to buy some loo rolls and the young man, as he handed them to me, said, “Enjoy”. I replied: “I’ll try.”

Graham Upton, Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – Is there no end to the Americanisation of our once proud English tongue? At Wimbledon they are now taking “a bathroom break”. I would have thought four minutes to get undressed, take a bath and get dressed again was beyond belief.

R.M. Flaherty, Auchterarder, Kinross

SIR – With regards to the “conscious uncoupling” of Gwyneth (pictured) and Chris Martin, which poor soul is going to be lumbered with that CD collection?

Marlon Zoglowek, Cam, Gloucestershire

Home thoughts on abroad

SIR – The answer to François Hollande’s affairs of the heart is that he should abandon the title of First Lady and instead institute First Mistress, Second Mistress and so on. All of his lady friends would then know where they stand – or lie down.

Ron Mason, East Grinstead, West Sussex

SIR – As the situation in the Middle East deteriorates, would now be an appropriate time for Tony Blair to reveal his divinity? I am sure that the sight of him descending into Jerusalem in clouds of glory would bring about an instant end to hostilities.

Tony Hines, Longframlington, Northumberland

SIR – Why is the battery life of the “pinger” in the 5kg black box on Flight MH370 only around 30 days, when the battery in my cardiac pacemaker, weighing 40 grams, lasts in the region of 10 years?

Dr Steven Langerman, Watford, Hertfordshire

Dear Daily Telegraph

SIR – Three pictures of Esther McVey in two days – hurrah! Has she replaced the Duchess of Cambridge as your preferred totty? Thank you on behalf of the older man.

Brian Inns, Chertsey, Surrey

SIR – Thursday’s online edition supplied Friday’s Cryptic Crossword, thus giving me a welcome head start over my wife, who completes the printed version. I wonder if you would consider extending this feature to the racing results?

Stephen McWeeney, Hartburn, Northumberland

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – Last week former government minister Liz O’Donnell called for an end to the “hounding” of Sinn Fein by people who object to their continued cheerleading for the most murderous organization this island has ever seen, namely the Provisional IRA.

Ms O’Donnell is entitled to her viewpoint but I wonder what her thoughts were if she was watching BBC’s Spotlight on Tuesday last about the rape of Mairia Cahill by a member of Sinn Fein’s republican guard in Belfast in 2010. The comparisons with Iran’s Republican Guard are striking.

There, girls who are raped by members of the Republican Guard are investigated by the same grouping, just like Mairia was, and usually found guilty.

In Iran they hang them from a crane. In Catholic Belfast, with the aid of the authorities, they hang them out to dry.

I’ve long held the belief that people in the Catholic communities in the North suffer from Stockholm Syndrome hemmed in as they are by so-called peace walls and oppressed by the tunnel vision of republicans to the point where they not only tolerate the intolerable they support it at the ballot box. Liz O Donnell has no such excuse.

Mairia Cahill needs someone to hound Sinn Fein for justice. I’m sure she’d welcome support from Liz O’Donnell.

Eddie Naughton,

The Coombe,

Dublin 8


Female answers don’t help men

Madam – Brendan O’Connor compliments Enda Kenny on the speech he gave to the Irish Association of Suicidology conference – (“A glimpse of our lost leader,” Sunday Independent, 12 October).

As someone who attended the conference I thought it was indeed a fine speech in which the Taoiseach referred to Paul Quinnett, another speak who addressed the topic: “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?”

The male suicide rate in Ireland is four times that of women. The point Paul Quinnett was making is that men are inherently “wired” differently to women as a result of countless generations of hereditary warrior-like traits being passed from one generation to the next when the name of the game with our forefathers was either kill or be killed.

Mr Quinnett maintains that this results in men being unresponsive to current mental health strategies of encouraging men to seek help. This may work for women but not for men.

He maintains a more proactive approach is needed: “Step in. Step up. Say something. Do whatever it takes to stop some guy from taking that terrifying plunge to oblivion.”

He also highlighted the importance that men place in being needed, not just wanted.

So trying to make a man like a woman will not work in suicide prevention.

Tommy Roddy



Depression needs more compassion

Madam – Tommy Deenihan’s letter (Sunday Independent, 12 October) bemoaning depressed people complaining for claiming social welfare is an utter disgrace.

Just a few days after World Mental Health day Mr. Deenihan portrays the depressed as a burden on society and stigmatises mental illnesses.

It is well known our country has a problem with depression and we can only overcome this if we take a more compassionate view toward those suffering from mental illness. I don’t think anyone would ever claim the State is squandering money by treating cancer patients. Perhaps it may comfort Mr. Deenihan that many depressed people take their own lives in order to become less of a burden on the State and their families.

John Fogarty


Co Wicklow


We need truth from Adams

Madam – When are we going to really get honesty and the truth from Mr Gerry Adams. I feel so sorry for Mairia Cahill and other victims of Sinn Fein/IRA sexual violence, and their kangaroo court.

Are they a mafia/fascist/terrorist/untouchable, above the law? What a shame that they can get away with this. Shame on the people that protect such evil.

Is this the Ireland of the future – lie down, keep quiet, don’t upset the status quo?

Una Heaton,

North Circular Road,



Now Bono can stop looking

Madam – It seems that the long search is over, Bono has finally found what he has been looking for. In an interview with the UKs Observer newspaper last week, Bono said: “We are a tiny little country, we don’t have scale, and our version of scale is to be innovative and to be clever, and tax competitiveness has brought our country the only prosperity we’ve known.”

Pride in the name of tax competitiveness, if you like.

It’s funny how the rich view the world. Tax avoidance becomes clever, innovative and somehow competitive. Another way of looking at Bono’s vision is that so-called tax competitiveness is destroying societies everywhere.

The reason governments everywhere have to sell bonds is because industry, the wealth funds that control industry, and personal wealth funds like Bono’s, have very successfully lobbied governments to the point where the profits made now are higher than at any point in history.

Corporations, hedge funds and sovereign wealth funds, then have to find some safe places to put their vast wealth; so, amongst other things, they invest in government bonds, or debt as we call it.

Simple logic suggests that if the vastly wealthy were taxed fairly, then governments everywhere would need to issue less debt bonds. I suspect Bono and his tax competitive friends will pass through the eye of a needle before they will come to see the world as poor people do.

Declan Doyle



Eight glasses is overdoing it

Madam – How disappointing to see Dr Ciara Kelly trot out that old chestnut about drinking at least eight glasses of water per day (Sunday Independent, 12 October).

Yes, the body consists mainly of water and we do need some water daily, but nothing like eight glasses which would just put unnecessary pressure on the bladder and kidneys.

The problem is that no one knows how or when this fallacy began. As one doctor said a few years ago: “I wrote a book on the benefits of water, and in spite of all my research I was unable to find out where this nonsense originated”.

Paul Reilly,




Thanks via Sindo out on the Algarve

Madam – My husband and I took a short break in the Algarve recently. We called into a church to sort out Mass times, then had a cup of coffee in a nearby cafe. As I sat down I reached into my bag to phone home.

It was with shock and dismay that I discovered my phone was not there. I was positive I had taken it with me, but just in case, we hurried back to the hotel to check the room.

It wasn’t there.

So I called reception to report it was missing in case I had mislaid it somewhere around the premises. About 20 minutes later they called me back.

Someone had found the phone in church – I had put it down on a seat while rooting in my bag for some change to light a candle and then forgotten about it.

The person who found it had phoned our home and been told where we were staying. They brought it to the hotel.. It was a great relief to me and a great start to the short holiday.

Out in the Algarve I was able to buy the Sunday Independent, so now I want to say a big thank you to the finder whoever you are.

I noticed that the Sunday Independent is very well read on the Algarve, so I am hoping this message will get through to them, via your newspaper.

(Name and address with Editor)


I don’t mind paying for water

Madam – The people make me sick marching about water charges. They should go to the poor parts of Africa where the poor women have to walk miles for a bucket of dirty water.

Tell them to go back to the 1930’s and 1940’s when we Irish had to go a mile to a pump or a well. They were grumbling about that too, and now that the government has piped all their homes with running water they are still grumbling about paying for it. I am an old age pensioner and I don’t mind paying for my water. I have to pay for everything else.

Phil Cribbin,


Co Kildare


Missing all our children abroad

Madam – Do you miss your daughter or your son/

Both been gone now for so long/

Every room seems empty since they went away/

Do you feel robbed of what should be special years/

Do you anger when some politician speaks/

Of a scheme called job creation/

€50 a week plus welfare payment

Offered to the youth of the nation/

Do you pray every time the phone rings/

That they might be home again/

But the words are the same as before/

“Sorry Mum, can’t make it home this year”/

Another year older, they’re still gone/

We’re invited to pay more for this and that/

Listen to garbage political chat/

Could an election perhaps change all of that/

Missing the love of our children in their prime/

Is indeed, a terrible, terrible crime.

Fred Molloy

Clonsilla, Dublin 15

Sunday Independent


October 18, 2014

A H Halsey – obituary

A H Halsey was a socialist academic who believed that comprehensive schools were the key to an equal society

A H Halsey

A H Halsey  Photo: Graham Turner/Guardian

Professor A H Halsey, who has died aged 91, was Britain’s first Professor of Sociology and played a key part in the 1960s, as adviser to Anthony Crosland, the Labour education secretary, in the switch to comprehensive education.

Chelly Halsey, as he was always known, was one of the last relics of the Labour academic generation that came up the hard way. But, although he himself had enjoyed a grammar school education, he believed that only the abolition of selection could bring about true equality. He was unapologetic about his belief that education should be used as an instrument in pursuit of an egalitarian society.

Halsey saw himself as an ethical socialist marching in the wake of such figures as William Temple and R H Tawney. Although he rejected revolutionary Marxism, he believed that the truth of socialism would be proved by empirical research, and that laying bare the facts would inevitably move the British people to eradicate inequality. “For me personally,” he wrote, “the class system, whether in its inherited rural form of squirearchy or its urban structure of bourgeoisie and proletariat, was always anathema.” It had to be rooted out — by force if necessary — using the tools of progressive taxation and compulsory comprehensive education.

Whether or not it ever truly existed, he was incurably nostalgic about the working-class England of the pre-war era, describing himself as a “pilgrim” who believed that “the institutions invented by the Victorian and Edwardian working class — the Unions, the Cooperative Society and the Labour Party — were the route to the New Jerusalem”. In an introduction to Twentieth-Century British Social Trends (2000) he evoked some of those qualities he missed so much, approvingly quoting George Orwell: “The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners.”

To his critics he was that most dangerous of political animals, a puritan romantic — someone who by his own admission believed in the “overwhelming importance of collective as distinct from individual experience and consciousness”. For what always seemed to be missing from Halsey’s egalitarianism was an understanding of the competitive side of human nature.

In 1974 he provoked widespread ridicule when he appealed to parents to remove their children from public schools on the ground that they were contributing to the deprivation of disadvantaged children. More reasonably, he strongly disapproved of socialists who “suddenly found exceptional reasons to send their children to non-comprehensive schools” (as well as those who accepted membership of the House of Lords).

The experience of being Crosland’s adviser was not entirely happy. Crosland, in Halsey’s view, was a disappointing minister who ducked the important decisions that needed to be taken, like abolishing the public schools. As a practical politician, Crosland balked at the idea on grounds both of individual liberty and political unpopularity. Halsey, the idealist, saw no conflict between the goals of liberty and equality and did not acknowledge the political problem.

A H Halsey

Crosland also represented a strand of 1960s liberal socialism that was alien to Halsey. Indeed, it was only Crosland’s commitment to comprehensive education that enabled Halsey to overcome his distaste for the man himself — “a profligate drinker and philanderer… alcohol, cigars, women, even opera were avidly consumed”, as Halsey recalled.

In later life, Halsey bemoaned the loss of old moral values and the breakdown of the traditional ties of family and community. But like many socialists of his generation he tended to blame society’s ills on Thatcherism, rather than on the egalitarian socialism of which he had been a prominent exponent.

The second of nine children, Albert Henry Halsey was born in Kentish Town on April 13 1923 into a patriotic Christian socialist family. His memories were of a wholly manual inheritance. His father was a railway worker and his wider family comprised hordes of skilled uncles and aunts. This early upbringing shaped his whole life. “I cannot pretend to be other than puritanical in my attitudes towards work and leisure and life,” he once admitted. “The manual uncles always haunt me, investing the stint with sacred quality.” The titles of some of Halsey’s major works reflected this early background: Social Class and Educational Opportunity (1956); Educational Priority (1972); Heredity and Environment (1977); Origins and Destinations (1980); and English Ethical Socialism (1988).

When Chelly was still an infant, the family moved to Lyddington in Rutland, then to a council estate at Corby, Northamptonshire. There they eked out a meagre income by foraging for blackberries and mushrooms and befriending the local poachers. A defining moment of Chelly’s life came when a tramp appeared at the kitchen window and stretched out his billy-can. Chelly’s mother gave the man tea and two thick slices of bread and dripping. “God bless you, Missus,” said the tramp. “Good luck to you, mate,” his mother replied.

Halsey won a scholarship to Kettering Grammar School and stayed on in the sixth form to take the exams for the clerical grade of the Civil Service. When these were cancelled at the outbreak of war, he left school aged 16 and worked as a sanitary inspector’s apprentice at £40 a year. On his 18th birthday he volunteered for active service and entered the RAF as a pilot cadet. He trained as a fighter pilot in Rhodesia and South Africa, perfecting the “aerial handbrake turn” that, he hoped, would keep him out of the way of Japanese Kamikaze pilots. He never met the Japanese in action but nearly lost his life when, practising the manoeuvre, his plane took a nose dive, recovering only yards from the ground. By the time the war ended he was a flight sergeant in the RAF medical corps.

It was the offer of further educational opportunities to men in the Armed Forces that gave Halsey his opportunity to acquire a university education. After demob, he enrolled at the London School of Economics. It was there that he met, and in 1949 married, Margaret Littler, a fellow student.

After graduating from the LSE, he took up research work in Sociology at Liverpool University then, in 1954, became a lecturer in the subject at Birmingham. In 1956-57, he took a sabbatical year in America, working at the Center for Advanced Study of the Behavioural Sciences at Palo Alto. It was at Birmingham that he undertook the work that underpinned the Labour Party’s early commitment to comprehensive education. In his first major study, Social Class and Education (with J E Floud, 1957), he explored the relationship between social class and success at 11-plus, concluding that working-class children were disadvantaged by the selective system.

In 1962 he left Birmingham as senior lecturer to become head of Barnett House, Oxford University’s department of social and administrative studies, and a professorial fellow of Nuffield College. Sociology was rather frowned upon at the time, but Halsey fought successfully to establish it as part of the academic mainstream. He became Professor of Social and Administrative studies in 1978 and also participated in university governance, serving on Oxford’s Hebdomadal Council. He devoted two books, The British Academics (1971) and The Decline of Donnish Domination (1992), to academic affairs.

Crosland appointed him his adviser on education in 1965, but after Crosland’s departure in 1967 Halsey found himself cold-shouldered by his successors. Patrick Gordon Walker made him feel like “Charlie Chaplin in City Lights where a toff would get drunk and take Charlie home, swearing eternal comradeship, and then have him thrown out in the morning as a person unknown”. Ted Short was “not much better”. Shirley Williams ignored him completely.

Surprisingly, Halsey was called upon by Mrs Thatcher in her role as education minister in the early 1970s to advise on nursery education, though she never acted on his recommendations that more money should be poured into deprived “educational priority areas” and nursery education. In the 1980s he emerged as one of the main opponents of Mrs Thatcher’s being given an honorary degree by Oxford, arguing that the university should “stand up for education against its principal oppressor”.

In 1983 he was a major contributor to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas whose report, Faith in the City, was widely dismissed by Conservatives as little better than socialist propaganda.

Not that Halsey had much time for the other political parties at this time. While he hated the extremists in the Labour Party, he disliked the breakaway Social Democrats even more, dismissing them as “middle-class Oxbridge intellectuals” whose party allegiance “did not come from childhood experience of the daily struggle that informed the politics of my own kith and kin”.

But by one of those strange quirks of politics, after his retirement in 1990 Halsey found common cause with thinkers on the Right about the disastrous effect of permissive attitudes on social cohesion. In Families without Fatherhood, which he co-wrote, and which was published in 1992 by the normally Right-wing Institute for Economic Affairs, he drew attention to the link between crime and family breakdown, harking back to “respectable” working-class family life just before and after the war, when the heart of the family was stable marriage, which anchored men into the child-rearing process.

Later the same year he criticised the way in which women had been betrayed by feminist demands for equality. Women, he felt, were now worse off than at any time since the suffragette movement because they were combining the role of breadwinner with mother.

Not surprisingly, he displayed a profound scepticism for the Islington radicals of New Labour. In a passage in his autobiography (No Discouragement, 1996), he recalled an exchange with Tony Blair over dinner in 1995. They were getting on reasonably well until Blair suddenly asked who the second most interesting character in the New Testament was and gave as his own answer Pontius Pilate.

To Halsey this was “a characteristic politician’s choice”, and he did not disguise his disapproval. His own selection, perhaps equally predictably, fell on the Good Samaritan as “a member of a despised minority engaged in direct action”. Clearly not wanting to get into deep waters, Blair immediately backtracked, remarking that, naturally, the last person he would try to emulate in power would be Pilate.

In 1977 Halsey was the BBC’s choice as its Reith lecturer. In retirement, he enjoyed gardening and woodwork, but he also continued writing. His later books included A History of Sociology in Britain (2004), followed by Changing Childhood, a history of the Halsey family, in 2009, and Essays on the Evolution of Oxford and Nuffield College in 2012.

His wife Margaret died in 2004; he is survived by their three sons and two daughters.

Professor A H Halsey, born, April 13 1923, died October 14 2014


Severe loneliness blights the lives of nearly two million people aged 50 and over in Britain.  Photo
Severe loneliness blights the lives of nearly 2 million people aged 50 and over in Britain. Photograph: Arman Zhenikeyev/Corbis

George Monbiot (Life in the age of loneliness, 15 October) does not refer to the role that our planning system has played, at least as an accomplice, in creating the loneliest “society” in Europe. During the next few years hundreds of thousands of new homes will be built, mostly following a model that could reasonably be described as “pandering to privacy”. In 1968 an American sociologist, Philip Slater, suggested that: “The longing for privacy is generated by the drastic conditions that a longing for privacy produces.” We seem to be in this vicious cycle where our individualism makes it increasingly difficult to provide mutual support and affection. Private housing is being designed to be not only privately owned but anti-social in its occupation. Planners should be engaged in the provision of co-housing where care and companionship are the norm.
Daniel Scharf
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

• Reading George Monbiot, I was surprised at the unwarranted and unexplained attack on TV. The WaveLength charity has supplied TVs and radios to lonely and isolated people living in poverty since 1939. We know TVs and radios ameliorate loneliness through the “social surrogacy hypothesis”, an effect studied by researchers at the universities of Haifa, Buffalo and Miami.

Monbiot is absolutely correct that loneliness is a scourge of our time and a leading contributor to poor mental and physical health. However, his depiction of TV as a “hedonic treadmill”, ranged on the side of selfish aspiration, jars with our experience of TV as one of very few supports left to isolated people – as well as the most accessible form of culture.

TVs and radios give WaveLength’s users something to talk about with family, friends and carers, as well as providing friendly faces and voices when they’re at their lowest. In day centres, homelessness hostels and women’s refuges, TVs become focal points for residents to meet.

Some of our users’ loneliness stems from the societal factors Monbiot describes: families dispersed to follow work, irregular public transport, erosion of pubs and cinemas. But others – living with illnesses or disabilities, struggling with addiction or escaping domestic violence – are less able to cope with regular socialising. TVs and radios give them comfort and a sense of structure when getting outside is difficult. No one would deny the painful effects of loneliness. But WaveLength’s 75 years in operation shows that isolated people have always appreciated media technology’s ability to keep their windows to the world open.
Tim Leech
Chief executive, WaveLength

• I was immensely moved by the article (Family, 11 October) about the upcoming film Radiator in which Tom Browne reflects on how he found himself trying to change his elderly parents’ lives. It rings so true with my experiences. I recall one day when I went to see my mum some time after my 95-year-old dad had died. He had survived a stroke for 10 years and in that time never left the house, and they bumped along, refusing help. I knew mum and dad always liked Wimbledon, so I turned up with scones and strawberries and made a lovely cup of tea and spread it before us. My mum watched the tennis for about five minutes, picked up the remote and put Emmerdale on. For 10 years, the soaps had rescued her from her mundane life and given her something to look forward to. I actually argued with her about turning it over. I should have taken my scone and tea and a radio and listened to the tennis in the sun in our lovely back garden in the house we had lived in for 60 years. It would have been great. I spoilt it for both of us. How I agree with Tom; we should give our parents what they enjoy and want, not what we think they “need”.
Debbie Cameron

• One of the impacts of older people being referred to as a burden (Society Guardian, 15 October) is that older people themselves start to internalise ageist views which can lead to the loneliness and depression described by George Monbiot. Ageism is rife in society, and this may be compounding problems of depression, isolation and anxiety. Many older patients I see say things like “I’m past my sell by date”, “I’m too old to be helped” and “It’s too late to change”, leading them to give up doing things they could still do, and to be pessimistic about life as an old person.

Yet we know that those who stay involved and active live longer and happier lives. Treating all these older people with drugs or therapy is not the right solution. We need as a society to re-evaluate what age offers and to encourage healthy ageing across the life cycle. We have started a campaign in our area called “Proud to be Grey”, challenging ageist beliefs and encouraging people to carry on doing whatever they enjoy throughout their lives. Initially this has been a poster campaign across all council, mental health and GP settings, featuring local residents with three statements about things they enjoy about growing old. These have ranged from roles such as being a grandparent to activities they enjoy.
Dr CI Allen
Consultant clinical psychologist, Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

• There would rightly be an outcry if any other group, such as women or an ethnic minority, was described as a burden. Age UK says that a third of pensioners do voluntary work. A further third of them do unpaid child-minding of their grandchildren so that their parents can work. Many of the over-60s look after their own elderly parents who are in their 80s. Older people are net contributors to society. Research carried out for the charity WRVS reveals people of 65 and over are also net contributors to the economy. Taking into account older people’s tax payments, caring responsibilities and volunteering, people aged 65 and over contribute £40bn more to the economy than they receive in state pensions, welfare and health services. By 2030 older people’s net contribution is projected to increase to some £75bn.
Ann Wills
Ruislip, Middlesex

• Loneliness among our elderly population is rife (Number of severely lonely men over 50 set to rise to 1m in 15 years, 13 October). The report by Independent Age and the International Longevity Centre-UK highlights the shocking extent of the problem – and how it’s set to get worse. Many people are unaware of the impact of loneliness on physical and mental health, and more needs to be done to widen awareness and address the problem. We’re supporting some truly inspirational charities that are addressing this issue locally, such as the Dorcas Befriending Project in London and Men In Sheds in Milton Keynes, and matching the first £10 of all donations made through in our “Grow Your Tenner” fundraising campaign, just launched by the new minister for civil society, Rob Wilson.
Stephen Mallinson
Chief executive,

David Cameron on a bike, 2005. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
David Cameron on a bike, 2005. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

If the taxi driver quoted in John Crace’s sketch (I’m David Farage, 17 October) is correct that Rochester is “the arsehole of Kent”, what does this make the politicians passing through?
Edward Rees QC
Doughty Street Chambers, London

• Re “The juvenile thrills of a puff in the park” (G2, 16 October): I presume the tigers in Trafalgar Square referred to are the ones under Napoleon’s Column.
Sally Howel

• Does the bronze of David Cameron on a bike (Secretive club hosts Tory fundraiser in aid of marginal seats, 17 October) come with a bronze of a limo carrying his papers?
Martin Berman

Tomorrow afternoon a memorial service will be held for David Haines, one of the three Britons kidnapped by Isis in Syria. David and Alan Henning travelled to Syria to help their fellow man by delivering vital humanitarian support to those who needed it most. Their desire to help was not driven by their religion, race or politics, but by their humanity. David and Alan were never more alive than when helping to alleviate the suffering of others. They gave their lives to this cause and we are incredibly proud of them.

We are writing this letter because we will not allow the actions of a few people to undermine the unity of people of all faiths in our society. How we react to this threat is also about all of us. Together we have the power to defeat the most hateful acts. Acts of unity from us all will in turn make us stronger and those who wish to divide us weaker. David and Alan’s killers want to hurt all of us and stop us from believing in the very things which took them into conflict zones – charity and human kindness. We condemn those who seek to drive us apart and spread hatred by attempting to place blame on Muslims or on the Islamic faith for the actions of these terrorists.

We have been overwhelmed by the messages of support we have received from the British public and others around the world. We call on all communities of all faiths in the coming weeks and months to find a single act of unity – one simple gesture, one act, one moment – that draws people together, as we saw in Manchester last week and as we are coming together in Perth today. We urge churches, mosques and synagogues to open their doors and welcome people of all faiths and none. All these simple acts of unity will, in their thousands, come together to unite us and celebrate the lives of David and Alan. This is what David and Alan truly stood for.
Michael Haines and Barbara Henning

Jocelyn Stevens
Jocelyn Stevens in 1991, the year before he moved to English Heritage. Photograph: Jane Bown

Far from being “buried by archaeologists”, Sir Jocelyn Stevens embraced us and shared our passion for heritage. Committed to quality, and irascible when it suited him, Jocelyn brought a welcome breadth of vision and experience to English Heritage. Most of us responded enthusiastically – though some were scorched by his insistence that only the best would do. He recognised the power of archaeology to change perceptions of the past and influence the ways in which we would live together in the future. The new Stonehenge visitor centre and the restoration of the monument to its landscape would not have occurred without his persistent advocacy. He was a firm friend to archaeology and his support was crucial as it evolved from a preserve of the few into the wider world.


I am outraged that Nicola Sturgeon, who is aged 44, has the effrontery to say that she expects to see Scotland leave the UK in her lifetime.

Scotland has spoken: it wishes to stay in the United Kingdom and, as Alex Salmond has commented, this is a once-in-a-generation debate.

She should not act as a spoilt child because she did not get her own way. And next time, if there is one, can we please take into consideration important facts which were overlooked in the recent referendum. Scotland merged with England and Wales in 1603. No one dissented, so it became in law one single country, and remains so. This fact is evidenced by our having one British Parliament at Westminster.

Thus if Scotland now wishes to break away, the decision should be taken by all the people of the UK or, at any rate, by all the people of Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland).

If it were otherwise, the people of Kent could declare their intention of seeking independence and demand a referendum to be decided solely by the inhabitants of Kent.

This is not as far-fetched as it sounds; Kent has a lot in common with Scotland on this issue. Whereas the greater part of England was settled by the Angles and Saxons in the 5th century onwards, Kent was settled by the Jutes who came from a different part of northern Europe. Kent was an independent Jutish kingdom from the 5th to nearly the 9th century, during which time there were some 20 kings of Kent.

Furthermore, Kent had a separate law of inheritance called gavelkind which was not abolished until 1925.

But a current claim for Kentish independence would be put to Parliament or, less likely, put to a general referendum involving the whole country.

Why the latter? Because the people of Kent have historically acquiesced in living in the one political entity which we now call the United Kingdom. Ditto Scotland.

David Ashton
Shipbourne, Kent


I can foresee a battle royal developing between the SNP and Westminster, whereby the spurious expectations of the SNP to get everything they ask for will not be granted by Westminster, and the howls of discontent from the SNP will fire up the independence issue yet again. There are many in Scotland who think that we need to get on with life, and there are many matters of government that have been ignored while we were strangled in a very divisive referendum over the past two years.

The independence issue is done and dusted, so let’s get on with building a better Scotland for all.

Dennis Forbes Grattan
Bucksburn, Aberdeen


Alan Johnson is labour’s only hope

I was surprised that there was little response to the suggestion that Alan Johnson should step forward to take the reins of the Labour Party.

I am not a member or a supporter of Labour or any of the current crop of UK political parties. Alan Johnson is, however, my local MP in Hull West and Hessle and represents his constituency very well. Are Labour Party members so deluded as to not be able to see that Ed Miliband is leading them to defeat in May 2015?

Ed may be a perfectly nice guy with a fine set of policies – but, crucially, he is an inept leader and, even more crucially, is not viewed by the British electorate as a future leader of this country. With him at the helm the Labour Party will suffer another “Kinnock moment”.

So step forward, Alan Johnson… even if you just call yourself a caretaker leader. This would be a bad election for Labour to lose; with the economy on the up and a possible fight against Boris in 2020, Labour could find itself on the back foot and out of power for years.

Martin Newman


Freud has at least started a debate

Lord Freud made a foolish blunder when he suggested that the disabled should be paid below the minimum wage, but those who rush to judgement should recall that another Government multi-millionaire minister, Jeremy Hunt, did some similar thinking out loud a year ago, when he suggested that the British had a tendency to neglect their elderly relatives, unlike the Chinese.

He seemed particularly taken with Beijing’s law for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Aged which placed a legal obligation on children to make regular parental visits.

Mr Hunt’s ostensible concern for the elderly was, in truth, a ploy to persuade us all to take on duties which governments like his would prefer to avoid, since a minimal-intervention state has better things to do with its money than spend it on old people. According to the doctrine favoured by the present administration, families should look after their own.

The Health Minister’s not-so-coded message was that individuals in the UK should take the pressure off public spending by stumping up for the care of their ailing parents.

Lord Freud has at least opened the issue up. We are told that employment is on the rise, which sounds like good news. On the other hand, we are also told that more than a third of the newly self-employed don’t earn enough to pay tax.

While it would clearly be an outrage to expect anyone to work for as little as £2 per hour, even if they did happen to be less productive than their workmates, it would also not be beyond the wit even of this Government to devise a scheme similar to one which operated around 40 years ago when small businesses received a premium from the state if they employed a person registered as disabled.

Instead of heaping abuse on Lord Freud, perhaps his colleagues could ask him to look into it.

David J Black


As your editorial (17 October) says, Freud must go. He has not only been thoroughly offensive, but he has spearheaded what disabled people have come to see as our persecution.

But your paper and most commentators, including Nick Clegg (“Freud raised important issue, says Clegg”, also 17 October), have all been sucked into believing that only work gives a person any value whatsoever. This ethos is unlikely to be shared by many other cultures, but in saying: “We are human beings, not economic units”, I feel completely out of step.

Of course, it isn’t new; mothers and those caring for relatives at home have long struggled to make society aware of their massive value. But this new drum beat, of forcing absolutely everyone into some sort of paid job, however poor the pay or demeaning the work, is a frightening manifestation of capitalism at its worst.

Merry Cross
Earley, Reading


Chimpanzees’ rights would be good for us

Congratulations on your editorial asking for fundamental rights to be granted to chimpanzees (9 October). As a superior species, human beings have treated the animals who share this planet with us with appalling cruelty and indifference.

By granting animals some fundamental rights and by focusing on compassion in all our dealings with animals, we will take a huge leap forward in our civilisation. Over thousands of years we as a species have corrected many wrongs that we committed on ourselves. Our cruelty towards animals in hunting, live exports, factory farming and countless other ways is a blot on our species which we need to address urgently.

Nitin Mehta


How extravagance redistributes wealth

Commenting on the extravagant wedding of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (13 October) says spending £8m “is not good – not for them, not for anyone”.

Surely the opposite is true. It does no one any good for wealthy people to stash their cash and live like paupers. Only by spending lavishly do they redistribute their wealth to the rest of us. George and Amal’s wedding, spread over four days in Venice, must have provided employment for countless people, and no doubt contributed to keeping the city afloat.

Julie Hynds


Richard III was hardly the worst of kings

Given Dr Sean Lang’s hackneyed condemnation of Richard III (letter, 16 October), I am thankful that I am not one of his students.

With nothing to gain and everything to lose under the new Tudor regime, so far from regarding their late king as a tyrant or murderer, the city of York publicly mourned “our good King Richard piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city”.

And when it came to wholesale political murder, Henrys VII and VIII made Richard III look like a fumbling amateur.

Richard Humble


Double Take

In The Independent (17 October) on the same page: the price of chocolate pudding in Israel – two full columns; 13-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank – half a column. Say no more…

Bill Dale

Sir, Large cruise ships should be commandeered immediately and sent to West Africa as floating hospital ships. I make this suggestion drawing on my experience on the Falklands task force commander’s staff, mobilising merchantmen as troop transports and hospital ships.

Cruise ships are fast through the water, have sophisticated air conditioning systems, catering facilities and huge electrical generating capacity: there would never be a shortage of power for any medical need. Cruise ships also have helipads and sophisticated communications systems.

This environment could be used to give medical personnel the greatest possible protection (clean rooms, suiting rooms and so on). Each of the big ships could offer up to 3,000 hospital beds.

There are no other capital assets that can put so many beds, and such a sophisticated Western technological infrastructure, in place in west Africa in such a short time.

These ships are very expensive (and no-one is going to want to use them afterwards) but they are far cheaper than military assets with the same facilities.

At about €500 million to build, these ships may be expensive, but it monetises the problem. An investment of €5 billion could put ten ships and 20,000 good medical beds into west Africa within a month. This is just about sufficient to make a difference. I can see no other means.
Nicholas R Messinger
Master mariner, Sturminster Newton, Dorset

Sir, I warned in my book in 2008 of the danger of diseases bred in insanitary conditions in the developing world being spread internationally; I mentioned ebola, together with Sars and HIV/Aids (Jefferson’s Disease, pp. 124-5).

There are other formidable viruses out there, such as Marburg virus and “monkey pox”.

The ebola screening about to be instituted will not detect the really dangerous arrivals in this country: those incubating the disease. Such people will mix with the population, spreading the virus for almost two weeks before being laid low. The only solution to that is to quarantine all visitors from West Africa for two weeks. Unless such rigour is applied, ebola will quite probably have devastating consequences here.

May I now suggest two measures to improve the safety of those nursing the sufferers? One is the judicious use of carbolic aerosol-type sprays as first used by Lord Lister. At one time, I had to perform orthopaedic operations in a room subjected to heavy traffic. By spraying this room there were no post-operative infections.

The second is the use of copper-impregnated materials, which have proved to be bactericidal. Gowns thus treated could be reused. This could help to overcome one of the serious dangers of nursing these patients: that of becoming infected when removing gowns.
Wylie Gibbs, FRCS
Newport, Isle of Wight

Sir, Jenni Russell (“Action this day if we’re going to beat ebola,” Oct 16) omits an important factor with respect to certain west African governments. The apparent inertia is less likely to be caused by crowd psychology than by a reasonable expectation that the governments of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone should have been making reasonable attempts to isolate affected patients and their contacts, prohibit cross-border travel and communicate effectively the seriousness of the outbreak.
Dr Tony Males

Sir, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year recounts how market traders, fearful of infection from coins, required customers to place payment in, and take change from, bowls of vinegar.

Should not government guidance suggest that retailers display notices stating “We encourage the use of contactless payment in the hope that this lessens the risk of infection by reducing the handling of cash and the use of keypads”?
John Harvey
Caterham, Surrey

Sir, This country has been kept free of rabies by the use of strict quarantine laws. The only way to control ebola is to strictly limit all movement out of affected countries and to impose 21 days’ quarantine on those few who are allowed to leave, preferably before departure. If an infected individual boards a ship for a slow journey home, the result will be a disaster. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship going to Sierra Leone would do well to isolate any person who goes ashore.

Even trained staff with all the protective gear find it difficult to protect themselves from infection. Therefore, those who have been involved in this dangerous task should also be quarantined for three weeks after their exposure. This would have prevented the present panic in America. We have forgotten how important enforced isolation is in the control of infectious disease. Harsh decisions can limit the spread of this tragedy.
Marian Latchman
Braishfield, Hants

Sir, Where is the international ebola aid movement — the international charity appeals and pop concerts? ebola seems to have a low profile in Europe. This needs all our help now, or it will get exponentially worse. I for one will be making another donation to help combat this awful disease — not much, but it all helps. Have you done your bit?
Pat O’Hara
Ormskirk, Lancs

Sir, I was appalled to read that those service personnel deploying to West Africa to help in the WHO efforts to contain the ebola virus, would not “routinely” be flown home by the government, should they be unfortunate enough to become infected. Does this stand up against the armed forces covenant? And what message does this send to those going to west Africa to assist in this great effort?
Nick Bailey
Upton Lovell, Wiltshire

Sir, A seemingly unrecognised route for spread of ebola would be rats and other vermin, if bodies are buried rather than cremated. It came from bats, it thrives in humans, it is likely to find rats a good host, from these ebola will spread to domestic and farm animals and find another route back to humans via pets and meat-eating.
Dr Lesley Kay London, NW1

Sir, Tony Westhead (letter, Oct 15) is describing a general consultant. A management consultant would borrow your watch to tell you the time . . . and keep your watch.
Kerry Thomas
Tilehurst, Berks

Sir, I have been reading your correspondence on zeugmas (letters, this week) with interest and a cup of coffee. However, whether I now better understand the difference between a zeugma and a syllepsis is a matter of conjecture and little practical importance.
Mark Haszlakiewicz
Goodworth Clatford, Hants

Sir, A Times correspondent once wrote that he had received a letter saying: “We had turkey for lunch and Granny for tea”.
Peter Govier
Highcliffe, Dorset

Sir, John Lennon once said: “I play the guitar, and sometimes the fool.”
Dr Dominic Walker
Bourne, Lincs

Sir, The perfect example of zeugma is in Have Some Madeira, M’dear, by Flanders and Swann: “She lowered her standards by raising her glass/Her courage, her eyes and his hopes.” And no good came of it.
Aline Templeton

Sir, Your readers may spare themselves time and mental anguish by consulting Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, where the entry for zeugma reads: “Essentially the same as syllepsis. The differences between them are trivial and undecided.”
Ean Taylor
Sprotbrough, Doncaster

Sir, All this discussion of zeugma and syllepsis is doing a great service to our knowledge of language, but my head in.
Geoff Buckley
Chislehurst, Kent

Sir, Carol Midgley fears being found asleep and drooling on her 29th circuit of the Circle Line three hours after a liquid lunch (“Boris and the lost art of lunchtime drinking”, Oct 15). It takes 49 minutes to complete one circuit of the Circle Line, so allowing for scheduled night-time closures and changing at Edgware Road, it would take about 29 hours to complete 29 circuits. Perfect timing for a restorative pre-dinner martini while following the 5:2 diet plan.
Angus Saer
Westcot, Oxon

Sir, Helen Rumbelow’s dilemma over the correct label for female footballers is a long-lasting issue. In the late 1950s I was an undergraduate at Bedford College for Women, University of London. That started life in the mid-19th century as the Ladies College but was soon renamed. However, 100 years later it was still widely believed that our rival all-female colleges were not so enlightened and the Royal Holloway College catered for girls and Westfield for ladies.
Olive Main
Stilton, Peterborough

Freedom of expression compromised after memoir ban

The court ruled that the book should not be published on the grounds that it may cause psychological harm to the author’s child.

The Royal Courts of Justice, London.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the memoir about sexual abuse could not be published Photo: ALAMY

SIR – The Court of Appeal’s injunction last week preventing publication of a memoir poses a significant threat to freedom of expression. The court ruled that the book should not be published on the grounds that it might cause psychological harm to the author’s child, who has Asperger’s and ADHD.

The book is not targeted at children and will not be published in the country in which the child lives. It deals with the author’s experiences of sexual abuse and explores the redemptive power of artistic expression. It has been praised, even in court, for having striking prose and being an insightful work.

The author’s earlier public discussions of sexual abuse have led to the arrest of one of his abusers. This memoir’s publication is therefore clearly in the public interest and may encourage those who have suffered abuse to speak out.

As members of English PEN, we are gravely concerned about the impact of this judgment on the freedom to read and write in Britain. The public is being denied the opportunity of reading an enlightening memoir, while publishers, authors and journalists may face censorship on similar grounds in the future.

Jeffrey Archer
William Boyd
John Carey
Jim Crace
Jonathan Dimbleby
Cory Doctorow
Michael Frayn
Stephen Fry
Daisy Goodwin
David Hare

Tom Holland
Hari Kunzru
Marina Lewycka
Blake Morrison
Katharine Norbury
Will Self
Sir Tom Stoppard
Colin Thubron
Colm Tóibín
Maureen Freely

President, English PEN

Hospital smokers

SIR – It would be more prudent to ban smoking outside hospitals before trying to ban in it public parks (report, October 15).

On arriving at both Gloucestershire Royal and Cheltenham General hospitals one has to walk a gauntlet of smokers, many in wheelchairs with drips attached.

When I asked about this, I was told it was public land, so the hospital authorities were unable to do anything about. What hope for policing a ban in public parks?

Annabel Hayter
Maisemore, Gloucester

Don’t consign Radio 3 to the digital realm

DAB’s quality doesn’t begin to compare with that achieved by FM broadcasts

Digital era: Ed Vaizey has suggested that BBC Radio 3 should be moved to a digital channel

Digital era: Ed Vaizey has suggested that BBC Radio 3 should be moved to a digital channel Photo: Daniel Jones

SIR – Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture and communications, prefers Classic FM to Radio 3. He is entitled to his views but, unlike the rest of us, he is in a position to do something about them and cavalierly wants to banish Radio 3 to digital radio.

Aside from the fact that DAB has singularly failed to achieve sufficient coverage and penetration into our homes and cars, its quality doesn’t begin to compare with that achieved by FM broadcasts, which are exploited so effectively by Radio 3 and Classic FM.

In 2007 DAB+, which does rival FM in terms of quality, was introduced. But unless you live in places like Australia or Italy, you can’t get it, even if you have a DAB+ compatible receiver. As far as I am aware, there are no plans to begin broadcasting in this format in Britain, probably because the signal format is not compatible with existing DAB radios.

Rather than adopting a negative stance on Radio 3, perhaps Mr Vaizey should be exercising his powers in a positive fashion by encouraging wider coverage of DAB broadcasts, cheap and simple conversion kits for existing car radios, and looking again at the case for DAB+ broadcasts in Britain.

Finally, is this just the thin end of the wedge? What are the minister’s views on Corrie versus EastEnders, and what will he do about the one he doesn’t like?

Philip Glascoe
Sturry, Kent

SIR – In 1992 I marched outside Broadcasting House with the Campaign to Save Radio 4 Long Wave, which the then director general was proposing to dedicate to a rolling news service.

That campaign was successful. I do hope I will not have to repeat the exercise for Radio 3.

Ann Cranford-Smith
Valongis, Guernsey

SIR – If Ed Vaizey thinks Radio 3 should no longer be broadcast on FM, perhaps he will pay for a digital radio to be fitted in my car.

Douglas Thom
Woolsery, Devon


Minimum wage is a barrier to meaningful employment for the disabled

Lord Freud’s words may have been ill-chosen, but there was some logic behind them

Grieving widows and civil partners will no longer be entitled to ongoing bereavement benefits worth thousands of pounds a year under government plans.

Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister Photo: Getty

SIR – My daughter’s ambition is to get a job in an office. She has Down’s syndrome. She thinks that, if she works hard, someone, somewhere will give her a job.

At £6.50 per hour, it’s never going to happen. But at £2 per hour? Maybe. For a tenner a week, an employer could change her life.

The minimum wage protects against unscrupulous employers. But for my child, it is a barrier to meaningful employment.

Indeed, because of the minimum wage, she is destined for a life of short-lived, voluntary non-jobs, together with a succession of “life skills” courses run by a local charity. Not much of a future, is it? Think of what it would mean to her to be able to say: “I have a job.”

Lord Freud’s words were ill-chosen, but I can tell you that I, and many parents like me, would welcome any change that would give our sons and daughters a real opportunity in the world of work.

Candice Baxter
Grimsby, Lincolnshire

SIR – I used to employ two people with learning disabilities who had been assigned to us by social services. When the minimum wage was to apply to them, we had to take them off the payroll; there was no possibility of us paying that amount for the few tasks the two people could achieve.

Social services were anxious that the assignment should continue, however, so we paid the amount that would not affect the benefits the persons received, and this arrangement carried on successfully for a number of years.

Janet James
Cheam, Surrey

SIR – The Prime Minister backs Lord Freud. He also backed Maria Miller. When will we hear about Lord Freud’s resignation?

James Bishop
Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides

SIR – My school provides specialist further education, training and development for young people with complex physical disabilities, brain injuries and associated sensory, learning, medical, emotional or behavioural difficulties. Many people we work with say they feel like second-class citizens. Lord Freud’s comments will only reinforce their perceptions.

I call on the Government to reduce the barriers people with disabilities face in getting jobs, and support people in proving what they can do, rather than focusing on what they can’t.

Kathryn Rudd
Principal, National Star College
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

SIR – The Coalition deliberately dis-banded the Remploy group of sponsored factories and workshops, which for years provided a well-equipped and successful light engineering and manufacturing resource for British industry, manned by very determined disabled employees and very worthy managers.

Graham Clifton
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

A terror suspect was recorded by police as he allegedly prepared to buy a gun using the code word “sausage” Photo: Eleanor Bentall

SIR – You report that a terror suspect is alleged to have used the code word “sausage” to buy a gun.

It is not the first time such a code word has been used. When in 1961 Goa, Portugal’s small enclave in India, faced the military might of India and was running short of artillery shells or anti-tank grenades (the stories vary), the commander of the Portuguese garrison sent an urgent request for replacements to Lisbon using the prearranged code word of chouriços, or sausages.

The Ministry of Defence in Lisbon, which had long forgotten the code word, duly despatched a large consignment of spicy sausages to Goa by plane.


Plum breakfast

SIR – Regarding John H Stephen’s sloe deficit (Letters, October 15), can I suggest plum brandy as a winter warmer?

The residual plums make an excellent topping for breakfast too – though not on days when one has to drive or make important decisions.

Melanie Williams
Craswall, Herefordshire

Sir, – So let me get this straight – corporations are found to be using various schemes and stratagems to ensure they pay a fraction of the current low corporation tax rate of 12.5 per cent, and our Government’s “solution” is to propose a new corporation tax rate of 6.25 per cent?

Using the same logic, those people refusing to pay the new water tax should be “punished” by having their bills halved. But, of course, in this State taxes are only for the little people. – Yours, etc,



Co Limerick.

Sir, – In an otherwise regressive budget, it is good to see the attention given by the Government to the Special Assignee Relief Programme (Sarp).

Under the Sarp, under certain conditions, international executives can make a claim to have 30 per cent of their income above €75,000 disregarded for income tax purposes. In budget 2015, the upper income ceiling of €500,000 has been removed and the requirement to have worked for the company for 12 months before being seconded into Ireland has been lowered to six months.

A welcome relief for the working poor, which the rest of us will certainly not begrudge having to pay for! – Yours, etc,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – It took only two days for the prediction of ongoing growth in the Irish economy to hit its first stumbling block. Surely those who are charged with responsibility for the fiscal health of the nation should have made it their business to factor in the ominous signs of a weakening German economy, when it was so glaringly obvious to most economic commentators.

Based on past experience, it was surely a reckless act by Government to frame a giveaway budget without regard to a likely downturn in Europe, as well as wider global uncertainty, which was already evident. It seems Murphy’s law will always have a role to play when it comes to predicting an Irish recovery. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 5.

Sir, – I am appalled at the abolition of the 80 per cent windfall tax on the price of rezoned development land from January 1st.

This tax was introduced by the previous government in the aftermath of the crash to try to ensure that a property bubble would never again wreck the economy. As well as removing the temptation to corruption in the planning system, it is also a simple way of implementing the principle idea of the 1973 Kenny report – that the community, rather than individual landowners, should receive any profits resulting simply from a local authority’s redesignation of agricultural land for development.

The Construction Industry Federation, whose members will benefit hugely from Labour’s €2.2 billion social housing programme, lobbied very strongly to have the windfall tax removed. It was confident before the budget to speculate on the removal of this “boomtime tax . . . that has generated zero funding for [the] exchequer since it was introduced in 2009”. This statement is self- contradictory, as the bubble had well and truly burst by 2009 and the main purpose of the tax is to prevent it recurring, not to raise revenue.

Sir, – I note the continuing travails in Northern Ireland over marches, flags, banners, etc. These rather tiresome obsessions come at a high social and economic cost. Might I suggest that the Parades Commission impose a small charge on each marcher and each banner, at about the cost of a cinema ticket? The income from this would be divided between the police and security budget and charity and community groups nominated by the residents of the area where the march is to take place. The charge could be adjusted by the commission yearly to determine a level where a reasonable contribution to the cost of policing is made and where the residents of the areas where the marches take place would regard the march with indifference or a moderate level of satisfaction. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – I am an English guest, gracefully retired in your wonderful country, living with my Irish wife in Mountmellick, a town with a rich history. We could not have chosen a more relaxed place to live and enjoy life to the full.

However, I am astounded that in this, the second decade of the 21st century, I cannot receive broadband in my house via my telephone line with Vodafone, Sky or Eircom, because, as I was informed this morning, “you are too far away from the [Eircom] exchange.”

I rejoice when I hear about the investment in Ireland by foreign companies involved in IT, but my heart sinks when I hear on the radio of directors of businesses in the midlands having to walk across the road from their factories to access broadband. – Yours, etc,



Co Laois.

Sir, – Cigarettes are up to a tenner a pack; that’s life. A fiver and more for a pint; no bother. A soggy disk of dough, with the products of food scientists’ best efforts at transforming transfats and animal protein slathered on top, delivered to your door (a 16-inch deep pan pizza with all the trimmings to you and me), €25; great value! Even better if it is washed down with a slab of lager. Approximately €600 for a satellite sports and movie subscription; sure everyone needs one when eating your pizza!

Approximately €200 for a year’s supply of clean water; absolute war.

Am I missing something? – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

Sir, – By not availing of proffered free allowances in return for PPS details I am, effectively, having to pay Irish Water for my privacy. I feel abandoned by the Data Protection Commissioner. This will be my election issue when the politicians come knocking. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

A chara, – The big protest march last Saturday against the water charges called to mind Stephen Collins’s opinion piece the previous Saturday (“Inside Politics”, October 4th) lauding the political skills of former minister for the environment Phil Hogan.

“Wiping the floor with his critics” at the European Parliament committee hearing into his appointment as EU agriculture commissioner, Mr Hogan’s “performance [was] akin to that of the Kilkenny hurling team in the All-Ireland final”. Mr Collins found it “hard to think of anybody else who would have managed to introduce the property tax, the water charges and the septic tank charges with relatively little fuss”.

As the stream of public protests against the water charges looks like turning into a flood that could submerge his Labour Party successor as Minister for the Environment, one can add knowing when to quit the pitch to Big Phil’s manifest political skills.

As he settles into his new job in the Berlaymont, the Kilkenny man might also take the time to make a quick call on his smartphone to former colleague Joan Burton to explain the skills of ground hurling and in particular how to keep your footing on a wet pitch. – Is mise,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Will Dublin City Council ever consider the impossible and discontinue the use of bus lanes?

Only this week, this is what the city authorities here in Liverpool have done. After a 12-month review, during which time all of the 26 bus lanes into the city were suspended, it turned out that the routes offered little in reducing the flow of traffic, and in some cases they made matters worse. They have now opted to scrap all but four of the bus lane routes. There are, of course, protests from the usual suspects – cyclists, passengers and the bus companies – but the council is standing firm.

What is particularly refreshing about this development is that the council will forego some £700,000 the lanes generated each year from errant motorists.

“Making the motorist a cash cow is immoral”, said the lord mayor, Joe Anderson. Now that’s a first. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Nobody, I suspect, who questions the measures to restrict access to mortgage funding as proposed by the Central Bank is advocating a return to the mayhem of the “boom” years.

But to suggest that the only alternative to the Central Bank’s proposals is such a return is nonsense – there hasn’t been, and there isn’t, right now, an enormous expansion in credit; there isn’t a property bubble in Ireland.

Right now, the world economy looks very flaky. Ireland’s economy has benefited from the quantitative easing implemented by the US and UK. Had those countries gone the way of the euro zone, the Irish depression would have been much deeper.

With Germany, France. Spain and Italy, just to mention the major euro economies, either flat or in recession, the question is whether there will be a quantitative easing in the euro zone area, and what effect this would have on the Irish property market.

The problem with the Central Bank’s proposal is the 20 per cent mortgage deposit requirement.

Will this douse the housing market at a time when the provision of alternative social housing is limited?

If we are going to have some kind of command economy, will this be extended to other sectors? Why only housing? Should we then have a prices and incomes policy?

Finally, those who are whispering something about putting an end to the cycle of boom and bust are in for a very rude awakening some time in the future – the cycle of boom and bust will recur endlessly. – Yours, etc,


Mount Brown,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – As a past pupil of Blackrock College, I support the Government’s proposed legislation ensuring all schools have an open-door admissions policy to all children. The world has changed and it is “hereditary privilege” that is totally “unjust” in deciding access to education in any of our schools. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Sir, – Your motoring correspondent states that car ownership among the younger demographic is plummeting and suggests that traffic congestion may be the cause (“Car ownership in Europe plummets”, October 15th). I suspect the main reason for the slump in car sales is the smaller wage packets the younger workforce has to endure; plus many workers are forced to work for very low pay under the internship system. Across the EU, youth unemployment is running at 24 per cent. In Greece and Spain, it is over 50 per cent! If we are to break this cycle of stagnation, employers need to follow Henry Ford’s lead in the 1920s when he paid his workers well enough so they could afford to buy the new cars he produced. We have given the money to the banks and it hasn’t worked. It is time to give it to young workers. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 2.

Sir, – On numerous occasions I have politely enquired why we, the customers, have to put up with the witless pap emanating from the sound systems in pubs, restaurants and supermarkets, only to be told, “We have no choice – a CD is sent out from head office on a regular basis, and we have to play it.” Regular inspections are made to ensure compliance.

All of which suggests that money is involved, which means we customers pay for this rubbish. – Yours, etc,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Your editorial “Recognising Palestine” noted that the new Swedish government is set to recognise Palestine. Maybe Sweden could recognise Ireland too, while they are at it. The last Swedish government slimmed down its representation here, now amounting to an honorary consul, in contrast to all other Scandinavian countries, which have embassies here. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The synod in Rome has made hesitant steps into the 21st century (“Synod backtracks on gay ‘welcome’ in revised translation”, October 16th).

Instead of quibbling over the translation of “accogliere” would it not be more productive for the Holy See to translate the ideas into action? – Yours, etc,



A Leavy (Irish Independent Letters, October 17) repeats the myth that we were rescued by the ECB and seems not to understand the difference between sovereign debt and private banking debt.

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When the banking system imploded a deliberate choice was made by EU officials – no doubt some Irish people among them, since Irish people hold some of the most senior roles in EU officialdom – that the terms of providing lending to an EU member would include that member state taking on all of its banking sector debt.

No matter what choice was made, Ireland was always going to have a recession but what made it a depression was the ECB. Ireland could easily have afforded to borrow the money required to make up for the loss of tax revenue and increased social welfare costs that the recession would have required. And given the resources of the State at the time, the borrowing requirement may have been minimal. Like other countries, such as Iceland, the Irish recession could have been over in two or three years.

When the president of Iceland was presented with the legislation mandating the people to take on the burden of its entire banking debt, he refused to sign it. And do you know what? The sky didn’t fall in. There was a referendum on the legislation and the people rejected it – and they rejected it a second time.

The people of Iceland borrowed the money needed to get through their recession and they borrowed a very modest amount to reset their banking system on a more sustainable level.

It wasn’t pain-free, but the banks managed to deal with their debts themselves. Not only did Iceland avoid a depression, it also avoided the social devastation Ireland has experienced and, in fact, social welfare benefits increased in real terms at the expense of the well-off. They rewrote their constitution, they held their banking inquiry and reformed their legal and regulatory systems from top to bottom. They even managed to send a few people to jail but, more importantly, the financial crisis is now part of history in Iceland.

The Irish State was not bankrupt at the start of the financial crisis, it became bankrupt because of deliberate choices made by the ECB and the Irish Government.

The ECB chose to add private sector banking debt as a condition of providing funding; the Irish Government chose to bow to such a threat. At every stage of the crisis there were choices and the tragedy for the Irish people is that their interests were so poorly served.

Desmond FitzGerald, Canary Wharf, London


In a faraway land called IMF

I would love to know where this country called ‘The IMF’ is and what their tax rate is. Indeed, we could also examine its fish quotas, its population, its property tax, its social housing strategy, its natural resources, its democratic institutions and, of course, its history.

Since so wealthy a state had to come to poor old Ireland’s woes, I feel that whatever the IMF is doing as a nation, it should be adopted by the good people of Ireland as the blueprint for our future.

Should we not be grateful that this wonderful country exists and that its taxpayers are so generous to lend us money at only 6pc interest, when the ratings agencies said that we wouldn’t be able to pay back our loans.

Funny how wrong the agencies were – or were they ?

I feel bad now for criticising our elite minds that found such a generous nation of souls and I’m now to brush my teeth and wash my mouth out with soap under the trickle from my tap. I doubt the inhabitants of IMF have leaking pipes.

Dermot Ryan, Attymon, Athenry, Co Galway


Rights of the unborn

Colm O’Gorman’s article on abortion looks a little lop-sided. Nowhere is the innocent, unborn child acknowledged. Another anomaly: Amnesty International has always admirably opposed the death penalty.

Terminating a pregnancy puts to death a very young victim, voiceless, hence vulnerable.

Without the basic right to life all other rights are rendered redundant.

This seems self-evident.

Human rights come not from the generosity of government but from the hand of God, said President JFK.

T C Barnwell, Dublin 9


Opposition to education reform

To resist changes to the Junior Cycle, ASTI and TUI members have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action, up to and including strike action if necessary.

In addition to the clear opposition of teachers themselves to school-based assessment, a national opinion poll last May showed the majority of the public are opposed to teachers correcting their own students’ work for certification purposes.

Our main areas of opposition to Junior Cycle changes relate to the planned removal of national certification and external assessment, both of which provide status and credibility to the assessment process.

Such credibility is linked with the high level of public trust in our education system.

Indeed, a recent OECD survey placed Ireland first among countries measured for public confidence in its education system.

We are also opposed to the imposition of further pressure on the capacity of schools to provide a quality education service in the wake of several years of austerity cuts, none of which were reversed in this year’s Budget.

Furthermore, it is clear that proposed changes to subject provision will have detrimental effects on the quality of education for students.

Certain subjects, such as history and geography, will be downgraded to optional status.

Such detrimental changes will hinder the development of students.

Sustainable and real educational reform requires teacher support and public confidence.

We call on the Education Minister to engage with us on this basis.

Philip Irwin, President, ASTI, Thomas McDonagh Hse, Winetavern St, Dublin 8

Gerry Quinn, President, TUI, 3 Orwell Rd, Rathgar, Dublin 6


What’s next? Food charges?

Water is essential for life, and access to good quality water should be a human right. Food is essential for life, and access to good quality food should be a human right.

Shame on the Government for maintaining a system which requires us to pay for food. After all, we do pay our taxes.

Edmund Haughey, Muff, Co Donegal


Beginning of the end of history

How can An Post, an organisation that has adopted an Irish language title, allow its mail to be carried in ‘Royal Mail’ bags? (John Waters, Irish Independent, October 15). Why does management not make it obligatory for post bags to carry identifying Irish postal signage?

The proposal by this Government for the downgrading of history as a core subject at Junior Cert level is a step in the same direction.

With no obligation on schools to teach history to our students, the consequences will be that more and more people will know less about our past, which will greatly lessen historical research in our universities, clearing the way for ignorance, revisionism and myth.

Mary Reynolds, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Irish Independent


October 17, 2014

17 October 2014 Birthday

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day my birthday 58 today. I get a card from Sharland and Shanti and some wine chocs and biscuits.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down trout for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Sheila Faith – obituary

Sheila Faith was a hardline Tory MP and the only woman in the party’s new intake in 1979

Sheila Faith (left) with Margaret Thatcher and Jill Knight

Sheila Faith (left) with Margaret Thatcher and Jill Knight Photo: PA

5:51PM BST 16 Oct 2014


Sheila Faith, who has died aged 86, was a Northumbrian school dentist who served one term as Conservative MP for Belper, Derbyshire, and went on to sit in the European Parliament.

The critical point in her career came prior to the 1983 election, when she decided that the new South Derbyshire constituency, which largely replaced Belper, was unwinnable. She tried elsewhere without success — only for South Derbyshire to be held by Edwina Currie, like herself a hardliner on law and order.

Quieter than Mrs Currie, the feline-featured Sheila Faith achieved much as a woman in politics without the drama. She secured the nomination at Belper despite the selection committee being advised not to choose a woman because the constituency was too large. And in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, she was the only woman in a sizeable Tory new intake.

Irene Sheila Book was born on June 3 1928 into the Newcastle rag trade; for much of her life she was a director of the family fashion business. From Newcastle Central High School she went to Durham University, where she read Dentistry. She then worked as a school dental officer.

She was elected to Northumberland county council in 1970, then moved back to Newcastle, taking on Edward Short, Leader of the Commons, at Newcastle Central in the October 1974 election. The following year, she was elected to the city council.

In 1979 she won Belper from Labour with a majority of 882. At Westminster she voted for the return of the death penalty, and became a founder-member of the health and social services select committee.

When in 1982 Willie Whitelaw promoted a Criminal Justice Bill that ended imprisonment for soliciting, Sheila Faith was the only member of the committee considering the measure to vote against it. She said that in her experience as a magistrate, prison was the only option for prostitutes who had already been cautioned twice and fined twice. The public, she added, would never forgive the government if the change brought an upsurge in prostitution.

Her greatest political embarrassment came in October 1982, during the by-election for the safe Labour seat of Peckham that brought Harriet Harman to the Commons. She and Norman Lamont, then a junior minister, each wrote to Ms Harman asking if she would be their “pair” once (not if) she was elected. Ms Harman duly published the correspondence, pulling the rug from under the Conservative candidate John Redwood; Mrs Faith professed herself “appalled”.

With her seat due to disappear, she decided South Derbyshire was unwinnable but, along with half a dozen other dispossessed Tories, failed to find a replacement. She lost out to Piers Merchant for her home seat of Newcastle Central, was runner-up at High Peak but was not even shortlisted for Buckingham.

Sheila Faith set her sights on the European Parliament, and was chosen to fight Cumbria in place of Elaine Kellett-Bowman, who had found seats at both Westminster and Strasbourg too much to handle. In 1984 she held the seat with the relatively comfortable majority of 39,622.

Her euro-constituency included the political hot potato of Sellafield, and in 1986 she accused Irish MEPs of spreading “misleading rumours” about radiation from the nuclear plant. Her interest earned her a move from the Parliament’s transport committee to its energy, research and technology committee.

She stood down at the 1989 election, becoming president of the Cumbria and north Lancashire euro-constituency. Two years later she was appointed to the Parole Board, based in London where she became deputy chairman of Hampstead and Highgate Conservatives. She also served on the Conservative Medical Society’s executive from 1981 to 1984.

Sheila Book married Denis Faith in 1950; they had no children.

Sheila Faith, born June 3 1928, died September 28 2014


Lord Freud Welfare reform minister Lord Freud issued a ‘full and unreserved apology’ after suggesting that some disabled people are ‘not worth’ the minimum wage. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

Disability campaigners and disabled people remain outraged at this attack against them (Minister forced to apologise for disabled insult, October 16). We say Lord Freud should resign after his disgusting comments that disabled people are not worth the minimum wage. Freud is the architect of the government’s noxious welfare reform programme that is pushing disabled people off benefits and causing untold distress and misery, in too many cases leading to suicides and avoidable deaths.
The policies Freud designed show utter contempt for disabled people. His latest comments made to a Tory councillor at a party conference fringe meeting confirm this. There are 11 million disabled voters plus their families in the UK. Do the Tories think that allowing this type of reprehensible comment to be made by one of their senior ministers will encourage any of us to vote for them? If they wish to retain any credibility and Freud refuses to resign they must sack him immediately.
Linda Burnip, Debbie Jolly, Ellen Clifford, Paula Peters Disabled People Against Cuts steering group, Jane Bence, Rick Burgess, Wayne Blackburn, Nick Dilworth New Approach

• Had Lord Freud not talked about “employing” certain people whose abilities prevented them performing effectively but instead talked about encouraging employers to find ways of allowing these people to perform regular tasks as therapy, there would have been no problem. Some employers would like to cooperate – even though it is not economically viable – as part of their social responsibility, because “going to work” can aid self-esteem. It would probably cost them money in extra training and continuous mentoring but they would be willing to take part.

It would be a great shame if having to pay the minimum wage prevented such altruism or if any such token earnings resulted in a cut in other benefits for the worker concerned. The noble lord may have expressed himself insensitively but he surely had a valid point. He was talking about a minority of people with disabilities whose work performance could never justify the minimum wage, not the majority who could contribute fully.
Andrew Papworth
Billericay, Essex

• In response to Lord Freud’s comments, Cameron says he won’t take lectures from anyone around disability. The latter point is a shame as under his leadership budgets for services for our children have been cut to the point that respite is under threat. As a parent of two disabled children, I know that Sheffield city council has fended off cuts for children’s respite services for the last three years and now has little option but to consider service reductions. As Cameron is knowledgable about parenting disabled children I am a little surprised that he hasn’t grasped the impact of lack of speech and language therapists, respite care and the stigma that has increased because of the negative media amplification over benefit provision since 2010.

Come on Dave, you look to tap into our empathy near elections, so how about showing some for us in policy?
Garry Devine

• The furore surrounding Lord Freud takes attention away from the real culprit regarding the barriers facing disabled people in gaining employment: capitalism. Employers require a certain level of productivity from employees to secure a net profit. When I administered the government’s supported employment scheme 18 years ago, wage subsidies were available in many cases to contribute to a full wage for a disabled person whose productivity was palpably below that required by the job. Properly run, such a system ought to be reintroduced to ensure a level playing field for disabled people and, yes, of course a proper wage for them at minimum wage or above.
Michael Stockwell
Basingstoke, Hampshire

• As a school that specialises in the care and education of boys who require additional support for learning we were deeply disappointed by the comments from the welfare reform minister, Lord Freud. We undertake a number of work placement programmes with local companies and have established our own programmes to give young people experience of the world of work. The rewards of getting these young people, many of whom boast excellent skills, into work are well worth it, with high loyalty and retention rates as well as ensuring that the resultant cost to society of having these young people out of work is avoided. On top of this there are various recruitment incentives on offer from the Scottish government, such as the employer recruitment incentive, to help employers to provide training and skills development opportunities.

This and other packages of support should be made more widely known, as well as a greater effort made to support employers to design jobs for young people and provide appropriate training. We would urge Scotland’s employers to look beyond the label of those with additional support needs, disregard the comments by Lord Freud, and give our most vulnerable young people the support they deserve.
Stuart Jacob
Director, Falkland House school

• While I would defend unreservedly the rights of everybody to earn equal pay for equal work, the uncomfortable truth is that some disabled people would love to work but are unable to do equal work. My son is severely autistic and has a cleaning job with a charity for which he receives £5 per session. He gains socially and feels very proud, believing that he has a proper job. In reality, the quality of his cleaning would not pass muster with most employers and can only happen at all with support from a carer.

The difficulty with making exceptions to the minimum wage is that unscrupulous employers would exploit vulnerable people. However, in an open market, competing for a job with a minimum wage, nobody would employ my son. In the spirit of generosity I’ll assume that was what Lord Freud intended to go away and think about.
Maggie Lyons

• As a 20 year old with Usher syndrome (deaf-blind) who has recently started a teaching degree, I have ambitions, just like any other 20 year old, to develop a career and play a full part in the workplace. I am also an ambassador for the deafblind charity Sense and spearhead my own charity, the Molly Watt Trust, and know that many disabled people make a huge contribution to society and the workplace. Lord Freud’s suggestions that some disabled people are “not worth” even the minimum wage is offensive and only widens the credibility gap between his government and disabled people. The government should be focusing on how to help more disabled people into work and Lord Freud should take the time to meet people like myself to understand the challenges and obstacles we regularly have to overcome.
Molly Watt
Molly Watt Trust

• Lord Freud’s comments beg the question: “Are some members of the House of Lords worth their daily attendance allowance?” Incidentally, is it included in the coalition’s definition of welfare?
Peter Wilson
Windermere, Lancashire

A model for our democracy? The panel from Strictly Come Dancing. Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC

Polly Toynbee (Never mind Russell Brand – use your vote, 15 October) argues for proportional representation as a spur to the 35% of registered voters who do not vote at general elections. I think the system change should be more profound. The Scottish referendum drew 85% to the polling booths. All MPs should be independent. We should scrap party politics and adopt referendum politics. The electronic mechanisms for regular referendums have been tested for years. I no longer want to vote for glib promises that are abandoned the day after an election; I want to vote on specific issues. Strictly Come Voting is the system for the modern electronic era. Eg: “Do you want the Land Registry to be sold to American hedge funds?”
Noel Hodson

Supporters of British recognition of a Palestinian state with a banner in Parliament Square. Photogr Supporters of British recognition of a Palestinian state with a banner in Parliament Square. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP

You write (Editorial, 15 October) of the “growing frustration … with both the failure to make peace and the actions of the Israeli government”. I agree and as a frequent visitor to the occupied territories, I would report that this frustration is reaching boiling point among Palestinians, who have almost given up on the outside world influencing change. The House of Commons vote was therefore welcomed with joy, as this message from a Palestinian paediatrician colleague living in Ramallah demonstrates: “You can’t imagine how this changed the mood of all our nation. People are dancing in the streets, sweet shops are distributing sweets and knafeh for free… It is more than what could be expected or dreamed – 96% for recognition of a Palestininan state is volcanic. Is it a dream or a real thing? It is a sort of reconciliation between British people and Palestinians… Thanks to the people of UK!” Those who say the vote had no effect should recognise the importance of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Dr Tony Waterston
Newcastle upon Tyne

• I am currently in West Bank. Having read your judicious call to Israel, I have to say that at ground level there is no space left for a Palestinian state to exist. Israel has evolved into a virtual bi-national state, economically a well-integrated whole, where near-equal numbers of people are governed by either civil or military law depending on their ethnicity, within its self-declared sovereign territory of Judea and Samaria.

The UK parliament’s vote was significant, however, not for the number of MPs who voted yes, but for the majority that abstained instead of voting against the motion. Therein is the message for Israeli elite to ponder.
Mohammad Abdul Qavi
Beit Sahour, Palestine

• The vote to recognise a Palestine state is a stupid mistake for two reasons. First, the Oslo accords which created the Palestinian Authority specifically require that a Palestinian state can only arise by negotiation, not by unilateral declarations. Is it wise or moral for the UK parliament to encourage the betrayal of past Israeli-Palestinian agreements? If the Palestinian Authority can renege on past agreements, what point is there in any future agreement with the Palestinians? Second, the Israeli government requires that in return for a state the Palestinians must agree to end permanently the conflict, recognise Israel and agree to security measures – which they refuse to do. The reason the Palestinians want recognition now is to enable them to bypass an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. In other words, they want statehood without agreeing to a permanent peace. A Palestinian state without a peace agreement can only be a recipe for even more conflict.
James Fluss

The Tokyo stock exchange. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA The Tokyo stock exchange. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

Pankaj Mishra’s article (Comment, 14 October) is an important warning about the unsustainable costs of global neoliberalism. But it is also based on a number of misconceptions – a case of Orientalism in reverse. There is no coherent western model of free-market capitalism and liberal democracy which is being imposed on the rest of the world. The west has produced capitalism, socialism, liberalism, and nazism and fascism. Undoubtedly, the US and its allies have aggressively pushed a distinctly neoliberal model on the rest of the world for the past three decades and have engaged in covert and overt wars to make the world safe for capitalism – but democracy has never been a major concern. Variants of capitalism are now adopted by non-western powers which are also exporting it to other parts of the world (China in Africa). Likewise, Latin America, the main crucible of resistance to neoliberal capitalism is largely inspired by Bolivarian socialism which is itself influenced by Western ideas (Bolivar was a great reader of Enlightenment philosophy).

Many societies are deeply divided over questions of democracy, religion, identity and social justice. In this sense the main battle lines of the contemporary world are not civilisational, but ideological and political.
Hadi Enayat

Demonstrators come face to face with police at the Mipim property conference Demonstrators come face to face with police at the Mipim property conference in London. Photograph: Richard Moffoot/Demotix/Corbis

I have just returned home from the protest against the Mipim property fair (Report, 16 October; Letters, 15 October). What is at stake is much more than a land grab for council estates. One of the Mipim sessions is “Exploring healthcare: opportunities for the property industry”. With Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust proposing to sell off 55% of Charing Cross hospital, 45% of St Mary’s Paddington and 100% of the Western Eye hospital, it is also health provision that is seriously under attack from rapacious property developers and starved NHS health providers.
Merril Hammer
Chair, Save Our Hospitals: Hammersmith and Charing Cross

• Now we know the Tories think their NHS “reforms” were a disaster (Report,, 13 October), can a law be passed to prevent any MP or peer from advising or holding a directorship with healthcare companies winning NHS contracts?
Dr David Wrigley
GP, Carnforth, Lancashire

• Mary O’Hara is right to highlight the lack of research into mental health compared with other areas of illness (Mental health research must be made a priority, Society, 15 October). Mental health has for too long been disgracefully neglected. The Liberal Democrats are determined to rectify this injustice, which is why we have committed to establishing a world-leading mental health research fund worth £50m by 2020. We have also committed to at least £500m a year for mental health funding in the next parliament. This is on top of the £120m injection from this government to introduce the first ever waiting time standards – described as a “watershed moment” by campaigners. We must ensure that mental health services are fairly funded if we are to build a fairer society with opportunity for everyone.
Norman Lamb MP
Minister of state for care and support


As a school which specialises in the care and education of boys who require additional support for learning, we were deeply disappointed by the comments from Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud that some disabled people are “not worth” the minimum wage.

As a school we undertake work placement programmes, working with local companies and have more recently established our own programmes to give young people experience of the world of work. The rewards of getting these young people, many of whom boast excellent skills, into work are well worth it, with higher loyalty and retention rates, as well as ensuring that the resultant cost to society of having these young people out of work is avoided.

On top of this there are various recruitment incentives on offer from the Scottish Government, such as the Employer Recruitment Incentive (ERI), in order to help employers provide training and skills development opportunities for those in this group.

This and other packages of support available to employers and young people with additional support needs (ASN) should be made more widely known, as well as a greater effort made to support employers to personalise and design jobs for young people in this category and provide appropriate training. We would urge Scotland’s employers to disregard the comments by Lord Freud and give our most vulnerable young people the support they deserve.

Stuart Jacob
Director, Falkland House School, Falkland, Fife


Lord Freud should not resign over his comments on reducing wages for unemployed disabled people: he should be summarily dismissed. Such attitudes are a throwback to times when disabled people were looked down upon. These views should be treated with contempt, in the same way people like him treat disabled people.

Bearing in mind that the Tories voted against the minimum wage when Labour introduced it, you may see why he holds such views.

Gary Martin
London E8

Charles Dickens says: ‘Don’t vote Ukip’

In his report on the local context of the Rochester and Strood by-election (15 October), Oliver Wright highlights the extent to which the constituency is “a place steeped in island history and a particular type of Englishness”, citing Chatham’s links with Francis Drake and Horatio Nelson. However, for many visitors to the constituency the overwhelming impression is the very good living it earns from its associations with Charles Dickens.

Tourists are lured to Rochester by the plaques giving details of how Dickens incorporated various buildings into his novels. The author’s life and work may be explored in the city’s Dickens Discovery Rooms. Visitors can follow in the footsteps of Dickens on a walking trail. Rochester also hosts an annual Dickens Festival and a Dickens Christmas Market, while Chatham offers the experience of Dickens World, complete with the sounds and smells of Dickensian England.

One of the hallmarks of Dickens is, of course, his humanity. As Fraser’s Magazine put it in its obituary of the writer: “He … regarded the Sermon on the Mount as good teaching … and quarrelled with nothing but intolerance.” In other words, the values that Dickens’s works embody are essentially the antithesis of what makes intolerant, xenophobic Ukip tick.

One cannot therefore convincingly profess to admire Dickens, bending over backwards to celebrate him at every opportunity, and at the same time choose to give Ukip one’s vote. If the voters of ostensibly Dickens-loving Rochester and Strood choose to elect Ukip’s Mark Reckless (whose surname would not have been out of place in a Dickens novel), the constituency risks being stigmatised for the hypocrisy and humbug Dickens so detested.

David Head
Navenby, Lincolnshire

It is now some time since The Independent began to give a weekly column to Nigel Farage. In this time Ukip’s profile has continued to rise, to the extent that there are questions about the amount of coverage given in the media to this one party, which to date has one MP.

With a general election approaching, it is surely time that this one party leader is no longer given a large regular space within your paper – a space not given to the other parties.

What began as perhaps a laudable attempt to redress an unfair political balance now appears to go against the impartial ethos of The Independent.

Michael Brennan


The Lost magic of Dad’s Army

I was surprised to read that a film is to be made of the television series Dad’s Army (9 October). The programme was a huge success for many reasons, but mainly the chemistry of the team of actors who played the Home Guard of Walmington-on-Sea. The entertainment business is littered with the losses of producers thinking they could recreate earlier triumphs.

The director of 1937’s Lost Horizon, Frank Capra, was asked if he planned to make a sequel in which the valley of Shangri-La is revealed to the world. Capra replied: “Where will I find another Ronald Colman?”

Colin Bower

How trade deal could hit the NHS

How many Independent readers, I wonder, are reassured by Jeremy Hunt’s answers to readers’ queries on the NHS (11 October)? I would draw attention to one particularly weasel-worded answer.

On TTIP he writes: “It is totally untrue that TTIP can compel national governments to somehow privatise public services”. Has anyone suggested it could? He is evading the key issue, of health trusts which have already sought to privatise some services, and might wish to bring those services back into the public domain. It’s then that the private companies will seek to sue for loss of income. That is the worry.

Ian Craine
London N15


Unpaid intern work is on the way out

Natasha Daniels’ time as an unpaid public relations intern (report, 16 October) highlights a significant problem.

The PR industry is being dragged from a trade into a highly skilled, well-paid profession. It is trying to stamp out the invidious practice of using unpaid workers – and more than  100 agencies have publicly committed never to hire unpaid interns.

As a visiting lecturer in public relations, I urge students not to go and work for those companies who want unwaged staff. If an agency cannot afford to pay, it is probably unable to give the quality of experience that young people will value putting on their CVs.

Alex Singleton
Associate Director, The Whitehouse Consultancy
London SE1

Let Ched Evans go back to work

Judy Finnigan and Grace Dent (15 October) are commenting on the Ched Evans rape case because an online petition is circulating that states that after serving his sentence he should not be allowed to work as a professional footballer.

If the organisers believe that rape is not treated seriously enough they should campaign for longer prison sentences. What they should not do is seek to impose extra punishments that have not been sanctioned by Parliament or imposed by the court.

When Evans has served his sentence he should be allowed to rebuild his life, like any other ex-offender. There is a fine line between justice and vengeance.

Nigel Scott
London N22

Some votes are more equal than others

Sarah Dale (letter, 14 October) entirely misses the point. The fact that my vote (Green, if you must know) is part of the “historical” record is of scant comfort if my views are nowhere represented (I suppose I could move to Brighton).

If she is in any doubt about the “fairness” of the system, consider that in 2010 Labour received 8,606,517 votes and gained 258 seats, whereas the Lib Dems received 6,836,248 votes and got 57 seats. The Green party got 285,616 votes and only one seat.

In what parallel universe is it fair that it takes 33,000 votes to return one Labour MP, 120,000 for a Lib Dem and 285,000 for a Green?

Edward Collier
Cheltenham,  Gloucestershire

Release the marbles from northern gloom

I really must take issue with Natalie Haynes’s comment that the British Museum houses the Parthenon Marbles in a “spectacular gallery” (15 October). If she wants to see how the marbles should be displayed she needs to visit the genuinely spectacular Acropolis Museum,

Not only is the procession arranged coherently, unlike in the BM where it is inside out, but the marbles are bathed in light and set against a backdrop of the Parthenon itself. So different from the northern gloom of the Duveen Gallery.

Jim Hutchinson
London SE16


Sir, Welfare reform minister Lord Freud is being unfairly castigated (“Minister clings on after ‘£2 minimum wage for disabled’ gaffe”, Oct 15). Twenty years ago I was in charge of the University of Exeter’s research greenhouses, and we agreed with social services to use their severely disabled clients, who were being trained in horticulture, for mundane jobs such as pot-washing. We could not afford to pay them at a university rate but we gave them as much as they could receive without losing benefits. The clients were given self-respect and we had our pots washed. It is logical to suggest that severely disabled should be facilitated to participate in the job market at a rate lower than the national minimum wage — as other countries recognise.
Mark Macnair
Emeritus professor, Exeter University

Sir, Lord Freud was genuinely seeking to help those with disabilities in furtherance of a point made by the father of a handicapped person. The question was: “How to get such into employment?” Overreacting to Lord Freud’s comment does not further the search for an answer.
David Pitts
East Molesey, Surrey

Sir, The gaffe by Lord Freud highlights serious “disablism” at the heart of the establishment. In the Eighties my small business won a government Fit for Work award as one of the best employers of people with disabilities. Back then, a sensible scheme existed. The prospective disabled employee was independently assessed. If they could work at 60 per cent efficiency, then the employer would receive a 40 per cent reimbursement from the Department of Employment. This meant that people who otherwise were stuck at home and frustrated on benefits became wage earners with dignity, enjoyed fellowship, and were useful members of society. In the way of all government schemes, a civil servant persuaded his minister to scrap it and “save money”. Of course, they achieved the opposite. Two things should now happen: first, the government should consider introducing an
up-to-date version of that scheme; second, Lord Freud should be sent to his nearest job centre, clutching his own P45.
Arthur JA Bell
Coulter, South Lanarkshire

Sir, I agree with Lord Freud. My adult son has learning difficulties. He loves work but always needs supervision. He lives happily in supported living; he fills his week by voluntary work and paying to do various activities which are funded by social services. If he could earn £2 an hour he would feel valued. Any low wage would have to be flexible as there are many degrees of disability, but such a scheme would help my son.
Glenda Stock

Sir, As the father of a woman with severe learning difficulties, I applaud the intentions, if not the words, of Lord Freud. Ed Miliband chose to take this issue out of context to create a party political point. Little wonder that politics is viewed with such disdain.
Simon Yates
Croxton Kerrial, Leics

Sir, You would expect political opponents to make capital out of Lord Freud’s remarks. What is disappointing is the rush by those on his own side to disown his views.
Colin Parker
Great Sampford, Essex

Sir, I would be delighted to see my autistic son in a position that brought him self-worth and happiness. There may be extraordinary costs associated with such work — if an employer were forced to absorb those then there may be no job. Mr Miliband should avoid jibes which might compromise the dignity and achievement of some disabled people, and consider the best outcome for some of our most vulnerable citizens
Gordon Muir
Dorking, Surrey

Sir, While visiting a university in Spain, I was greeted by a woman with Down’s syndrome, who meticulously issued my visitor’s pass. Later I found that her wages were subsidised by the government. For such a scheme to work in this country we would need to change our system to allow those on benefits, such as severe disablement allowance, to earn more than £20 per week. If you are only permitted to keep £20 per week, being paid the minimum wage is hardly relevant.
George Plint
Whitway, Hants

Sir, We disagree with the comments attributed to Lord Freud. Many young people with whom we work say they feel like second-class citizens, and Lord Freud has helped to reinforce their perceptions. We call on the government to look at ways to reduce the barriers to work faced by people with disabilities. Organisations like ours support people to prove what they can do, not focus on what they can’t.
Kathryn Rudd
Principal, National Star College, Ullenwood, Glos

Sir, As somebody who was born with only one arm and no legs, I believe that the criticism of Lord Freud misses a more fundamental question over the approach entrenched in society by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). On many job applications, the question about disability is often framed: “The DDA defines disability as ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities’. Do you consider yourself disabled according to this definition?”
I usually answer “No”.
True, without my artificial legs, my differences would have a substantial effect on my day-to-day activities. However, the same could also be said of anyone with glasses or hearing aids. A more discriminating definition would seem necessary if the legal rights enshrined within the act are to be enjoyed by those intended.
Dr John Hayward
Barton, Cambs

Sir, The Remploy factories worked well until the government withdrew funding, with the last factory closing a year ago. It gave thousands of people something to get up for every day. Time for a rethink.
Eric Wheelwright

Sir, I understand Keith Turner’s point about “garage” rhyming with “Farage” (letter, Oct 16). However, I am now gazing at my porage with some puzzlement.
Bernard Kingston
Biddenden, Kent
Sir, I always refer to the man as Nigel Farrago.
Professor Neil Atherton

Sir, In the fashion article for “working women” (Times2, Oct 15), I note that two of the ensembles are priced at around £1,100 and others at £1,625 and £2,490. A cheaper one is priced at £660 but features only trousers and a baggy T-shirt. And not a pair of shoes or a handbag to be seen. Surely another £1,000? On the opposite page is a faux fur “clutch” like those that my daughters had as pencil cases at school . . . for a bargain £185. Am I missing something?
Adam Gilbert
Edenbridge, Kent

Sir, Your leader (“Migrant Benefits”, Oct 15) stated that our prediction of one million extra migrants in London by 2030 was “no doubt” exaggerated. Far from it. It is taken from the projections of the Office of National Statistics. Indeed all our work is based on official statistics and often casts light on aspects which those in favour of the present massive levels of immigration would rather not be properly understood.
Sir Andrew Green
Chairman, Migration Watch UK

Sir, Banning smoking in buildings, universally welcomed now, brought with it the “hold-your-breath dash” as we ran the gauntlet of smokers’ fog at the entrances of larger buildings. Will there now be the same at park gates? (“Boris set to ban smoking in London’s parks and squares”, Oct 16)
Douglas Martyn
Sandilands, Lanark

Sir, Could Boris also ban burger bars near parks? The smell of cooked onions ruins the pleasure of walking among the flowers.
Josephine Forrest
Nether Stowey, Somerset

Sir, Far from defending the use of Ripa to obtain journalists’ sources,
I said that such data should only be obtained where serious criminal offending is alleged (“DPP defends hacking of journalists’ contacts”, Oct 15). The two cases which have been highlighted involved a part-time judge deliberately perverting the course of justice for which she was jailed, and allegations of a police conspiracy against the government; this was not about either a confidential tip-off over speeding fines or the source of an embarrassing leak, both of which would have been totally inappropriate uses of Ripa in my opinion. A free and open press is vital to our democracy and maintaining confidential sources is an important part of holding power to account.
Alison Saunders
Director of Public Prosecutions


Pensions: will early withdrawals leave people dependent on state benefits later on? Photo: Ian Jones

6:57AM BST 16 Oct 2014


SIR – What is George Osborne up to, allowing people who have accumulated pension pots, varying from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of pounds, access to all that money to spend on whatever they want?

Clearly billions of pounds will be withdrawn and spent, boosting the economy and creating jobs, but what will be the ultimate cost?

The very people who have raided their pension pots will, upon reaching old age, be unable to support themselves as they might have done and will therefore become dependent on the state. Mr Osborne’s plan seems very short-sighted.

Don Roberts
Birkenhead, Cheshire

Folk dance traditions

SIR – Nadia Alnasser is wrong to assert that blackface in every form is racist. The Sweeps Festival in Rochester can hardly be accused of racism: the Morris sides are celebrating the annual day off given to chimney sweeps and the blacking represents soot.

Should we be asking similar questions about the custom of mime artists painting their faces white?

Jeremy C N Price

SIR – Nadia Alnasser claims social historians “agree” that Morris dancing mocks African tribal dances.

The earliest mention of Morris dancing dates to 1448, centuries before the “scramble for Africa”, and the part of the ancient hobby horse in Morris dancing has no African cultural equivalent.

Mark Boyle
Johnstone, Renfrewshire

Passive e-smoking

SIR – Does the fad for e-cigarettes constitute smoking in a public place? It is odd to see people puffing on trains and inside buildings, especially when we don’t know the effects.

Michael Owen
Chippenham, Wiltshire

SIR – Ban smoking in parks? Ban smoking.

Steve Cattell
Hougham, Lincolnshire

Barely decent: a commuter in Bangalore takes part in the annual ‘No Pants Subway Ride’ Photo: AFP

6:58AM BST 16 Oct 2014


SIR – As a boy seaman confined with an ear infection in the Royal Naval Hospital in Singapore, I was asked by the surgeon admiral whether I wore underpants.

My answer in the affirmative was declared to be the cause of my condition. Is there any evidence to support this diagnosis?

Nick Young
Cavendish, Suffolk

SIR – The only advice my mother gave me regarding clothes was to make sure that everything I wore was clean, fresh, aired and with no holes surplus to specification. Nothing else matters.

She also advised me never to get a tattoo. Indeed, I have observed that a tattoo is a sure sign of lack of self-esteem, no matter how successful or rich the wearer.

Huw Beynon
Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire

Anyone for gin?

SIR – I suggest that Mr Stephen substitutes damsons for sloes. They make for a very good gin tipple.

Graham Spencer

Strike a point for lefties

SIR – To Harry de Quetteville’s article on the benefits of being left-handed, may I add that five of the top 16 fencers in the world are left-handed, although only one in eight of the population is. We are still often viewed as sinister, gauche or just different – which is something to strive for nowadays.

Tony Parrack
London SW20

Webber on webs

SIR – Two years ago my wife and I tried using conkers to keep spiders at bay.

We put them in a bowl out of sight in our porch and rediscovered them a few weeks later, covered in cobwebs.

Don Webber
Bembridge, Isle of Wight

May 1994 : Refugees cross the Rusumo border into Tanzania from Rwanda  Photo: Reuters

6:58AM BST 16 Oct 2014


SIR – I read with utter incredulity Gerard O’Donovan’s review of the BBC documentary, This World: Rwanda’s Untold Story.

Genocide denial is the final stage of genocide. That is why Holocaust denial is punishable with a prison sentence in some countries. In investigating possible crimes committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the programme-makers seemed to try to present the story as one of ethnic violence.

This was certainly not the case. Rwanda in 1994 witnessed a very carefully executed genocide. The speed and intensity of killing were terrifying and could only have been carried out in the way they were with a high degree of preparation and organisation, involving officers of the state, politicians, and social and religious leaders at all levels of society.

Of course there were Hutus killed as well, but they were opponents of the Tutsi genocide. The greatest number of victims were killed not because they opposed the government, but because their identity card said they were Tutsi, or their father was Tutsi, or killers at the roadblocks thought they were Tutsi. As with the Holocaust, we will never know the exact number of victims.

Last year I worked with a group of Rwandan actors, most of whom had lived through the genocide, on a piece of theatre used in Holocaust education at a conference of teachers in Kigali, the capital city. The events of 20 years ago still have repercussions on individual lives. The Rwandan people have struggled to come to terms with what happened and, with strong political leadership, are managing with a quiet dignity to rebuild their society.

How insensitive of the BBC to film the trauma of individual memory, and then to use the footage in such a dangerous and reckless way, with no attempt to examine the past from all sides.

Jonathan Salt

Ebola screening has begun at Heathrow airport Photo: ALAMY

6:59AM BST 16 Oct 2014


SIR – The international response to the Ebola crisis, highlighted by the United Nations, lacks common sense.

There are two distinct facets to the control of the disease. The first, which is being addressed, is the treatment and prevention of the spread of disease within the west African countries. The second, and more important, is to prevent the disease becoming a worldwide pandemic.

The only credible policy is to isolate the three countries with closed borders until the disease is brought under control. This interim period would allow the immigration services to implement a policy of stamping exiting passports with a World Health Organisation logo plus the date, allowing destination airports to clearly identify individuals from this area.

These international travellers would be brought under a public health remit with further screening and medical advice without the farrago that is occurring at airports such as Heathrow today.

A G Murphy
London EC4

SIR – In my youth we were quarantined for infectious diseases. Is it because it contravenes human rights that we are not suggesting infected areas be quarantined and that people do not travel from those areas?

With Ebola’s incubation period of, I understand, up to three weeks, there seems little point in spending a fortune putting any screening into practice.

Sue Cooper
Upper Hartfield, East Sussex

Should the public pay extra on their NI contributions to keep the NHS afloat? Photo: Getty Images

7:00AM BST 16 Oct 2014


SIR – Over the past three weeks, I have seen two consultants, had two blood tests, a CT scan and a biopsy. I have now begun long-term chemotherapy treatment.

My treatment is costly; my husband and I would be willing to pay a modest amount each month to ensure that our excellent NHS is available for future generations.

However, I often hear people say: “I have paid my NI contributions all my working life, so I am entitled to use the NHS.” True, but with an ageing population the demand is much greater now than before.

I also have heard it suggested that many people would be prepared to pay a little extra on their NI contributions. As our MPs are unwilling to propose this, perhaps a straw poll should be taken?

Jackie Sturdy
Westward Ho!, Devon

SIR – Spending more money on the NHS is not necessarily the right thing to do. The NHS was created when people couldn’t see a doctor and children were dying of diseases such as scurvy. It was not created to absolve families of looking after elderly relatives; to cure people of diseases that they have brought upon themselves; or to stop people from eating too much by stapling up their stomachs.

The NHS will never be adequately funded if we expect it to address the consequences of people’s failure to take personal responsibility.

Dr David Cottam
Dormansland, Surrey

SIR – As a recently retired GP, I am saddened by the continuing decline of the NHS. The spirit of those working in the service has gone and the NHS has lost the respect of many who use it.

Sooner or later, a government will have to admit that it is no longer tenable for everything to be free at the point of delivery. No other country has adopted our system. Some payment is required, which could be insurance-linked or refunded in cases that warrant it.

Requiring that GP practices remain open 12 hours every day is also not the answer. What patients need is to know that they can contact a local doctor from 8am to 11pm. For many years we shared this responsibility with another practice, which meant that a GP was on call one in eight evenings and weekends: this was not too onerous and much appreciated by patients, who usually didn’t use A&E inappropriately.

Dr Dick Raffety

SIR – I have often wished that Mary Riddell was running the country instead of the present incumbent of 10 Downing Street, and now I wish that Bryony Gordon was in No 11. Her defence of striking midwives and her assessment of what is wrong with the distribution of work and pay in the NHS is bang on target.

Bryony Lee
Abergele, Denbighshire

John Grisham: we’ve ‘got nuts’ with locking up ‘sex offenders’

6:23PM BST 16 Oct 2014

SIR – May it please your Lordship, I had a bit too much to drink, was unsteady on my feet and, to help keep my balance, I grabbed hold of the gentleman next to me. As a result, my hand slipped into his pocket and became entangled with his wallet. I did not mean to steal anything, and so I plead the Grisham defence (“Child porn shouldn’t always mean jail”, report, October 16).

Peter Walton

Taxing problem

SIR – David Cameron talks about cutting inheritance tax (report, October 15).

I am more concerned about being denied my pension for another six years. This outrageous change mainly affects another huge group of voters – older and angry women – who are being disregarded and have not had time to make contingency plans. Yes, I want to be able to pass on my family home (which would probably not have met the current inheritance threshold anyway), but even more, I would like to have the opportunity to enjoy my modest retirement, supporting my children in work by helping with grandchildren, while I’m still alive.

Carol Fielding
Egerton, Lancashire

SIR – Many mistakenly think that the threshold for inheritance tax starts at £650,000. In fact, the threshold for a single person is £325,000, which is transferable to an existing spouse or civil partner provided it is unused at the time of the second death. Those of us widowed before this provision was enacted are unable to claim again. We still wish to provide for our families after death, but are restricted to the single person’s allowance.

The full inequity of inheritance tax should be revealed, so more people will realise that it applies to them.

Jennifer List
Woodford Green, Essex

SIR – Robert Colvile observes (Why we’re still in the red) that falling tax receipts are forcing the Chancellor to borrow more. He could, of course, simply spend less.

R P Gullett
Bledlow Ridge, Buckinghamshire

The power of contagion

SIR – Over the past months, 4,500 people have died from Ebola, a highly contagious and deadly disease. Western nations are now in a state of panic, attempting to prevent the disease from spreading in, and being exported from, Africa.

At the same time, 30,000 children die every day as a result of illnesses connected with malnutrition. Perhaps it’s a pity hunger isn’t contagious – if it were, then we might actually do something about it.

Roger West
Appenzell, Switzerland

Irish Times:

Sir, – Is the offering of tax relief on the water tax not the most ridiculous, contradictory, politically hollow decision made by a government in a long time? Imposing a tax and then providing relief against it? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – A budget prepared by public servants is likely to be biased in favour of the public sector. If the group preparing the budget were to be drawn from the private sector, I suspect the universal social charge would have been fairly and equitably applied across income bands. As it stands, it blatantly discriminates against the self-employed. – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – So the Taoiseach has indicated Fine Gael’s intention to keep increasing USC on incomes over €70,000 in further budgets to prevent higher earners getting “disproportionate benefits” from tax cuts (“Taoiseach pledges to cut income tax rate again in next budget”, October 15th). Fine Gael seems to have switched from being pro-austerity to anti-ambition. Time for a true party of the right to emerge. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – Why does it take two Ministers to deliver a budget speech? After all, the UK, with a population 16 times ours, manages perfectly adequately with one. – Yours, etc,


Kilmainham, Dublin 8.

Sir, – While hardship is still widespread, it is nevertheless true that our exports are booming, our growth rate is amazing, 70,000 people have now got jobs who hadn’t a year ago, and we can now borrow money at a fraction of the interest rate that obtained not so long ago. We are clearly moving in the right direction towards getting our country back on its feet again, and there are four words that should be said, but never will be. It would be nice to hear “thank you” said to Enda Kenny and his colleagues in Government, and to hear “austerity works” said by Paul Murphy and his colleagues in the Anti-Austerity Alliance. – Yours, etc,


Blessington, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The lack of revenue from the 80 per cent levy on land rezoning is more a reflection on both the over-zoning that took place during the Celtic Tiger years, combined with a moribund building sector, meaning there has been no need for rezoning at all.

The best argument for the levy, first recommended in the 1973 Kenny report on the price of land, comes from the report of the Mahon tribunal, which stated that “the introduction of an 80 per cent windfall tax on profits/gains attributable to land rezoning . . . is likely to dramatically reduce incentives to make corrupt payments to influence land zonings should the opportunity to make such profits return”.

In that context the lack of revenue should be taken as a success, and the removal of the levy as opening the door again to planning corruption. – Yours, etc,


Ranelagh, Dublin 6 .

Sir, – I am puzzled as to why Michael Noonan chose to penalise the self-employed with a new rate of 11 per cent USC as compared to 8 per cent for PAYE workers.

This acts as a serious disincentive for people considering setting up a business.

When you factor in concerns that our new-found growth is being heavily lead by foreign direct investment (FDI) companies, surely the logical move would have been to attract people to set up business and create employment ? – Yours, etc,


Managing Director,

Snap Citywest,

Citywest Business Campus,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I welcome Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan’s plans to introduce legislation to outlaw discrimination in school admissions policies (“Blackrock old boys urged to fight ‘unjust’ Bill”, October 11th). Former Blackrock College students, known as “Rockmen”, and indeed alumni of other schools in the private sector, are being prompted to oppose the “unjust State interference” in the school’s admissions policy. This draft Bill, if introduced, would prevent schools from reserving places for the sons of past pupils.

We are now well used to the perennial debate on the issue of hard-pressed taxpayers subsidising fee-paying educational institutions of privilege and watching the formidable middle class and the well-resourced recipient private schools rushing to defend what is increasingly seen as the indefensible. The resilience of some of these private schools in weathering the economic tsunami washing over us is matched by their energy in defending the status quo of the restrictive admissions policies that make these school virtually inaccessible to children of immigrants, the Travelling community, children with special needs and those whose parents cannot afford the cost. Yet it is this same category of people who by their taxes help fund the State’s €100 million subvention of private schools. This subvention is then used to provide facilities that State schools cannot afford. There is also evidence that some of this State funding is used to lower the pupil-teacher ratio at these institutions of privilege, which in turn discriminates against children in State schools.

Fee-paying schools have been the best-resourced in the State. Just like private hospitals that are profitable businesses, private fee-paying schools with restrictive admissions policies must resource themselves.

Why should taxpayers, the vast majority of whom could never aspire to such a privileged education for their own children, be expected to subsidise exclusive boarding schools for the wealthy privileged when State-run schools are having their funding reduced? – Yours, etc,


Templeogue, Dublin 6W.

Sir, – The opinion piece by Anthony White (“Why wind is not the answer to Ireland’s energy question”, Opinion & Analysis, October 14th) proffers a rather new solution to Ireland’s energy and CO2 emission problems, the large-scale importation of wood pellets from the US. It is suggested that these be used as fuel in Moneypoint, replacing imported coal. Would that it were so simple!

While it is true that this would dramatically reduce CO2 emissions compared to coal, burning wood still releases CO2. It would also do nothing to reduce our dependence on imported fuel.

In fact, we would have to import almost twice as much by weight as coal, depending on the moisture content of the wood pellets. The widespread assumption that the fuel is carbon neutral is also now being seriously questioned, as it depends on how the fuel is harvested and on forestry management methods. Cost is also highly variable, while unfortunately coal has never been cheaper, as gas from fracking in the US has meant it is no longer in demand there. Wind energy on the other hand does not generate CO2 (except in initial turbine and tower manufacture and construction). It is something we are not short of and at times produces up to 50 per cent of our electricity needs. In fact 16 per cent of our needs were provided by wind over 2013, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, resulting in massive reductions in CO2 emissions. Of course it is variable so we need some baseline electricity, as we always will. This is best provided by the relatively clean existing and planned combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power stations.

On one thing we can agree – coal-burning at Moneypoint should be phased out! – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Further to Kathy Sheridan’s “How much will Irish Water fiasco cost our democracy?” (Opinion & Analysis, October 15th), it is quite staggering to read that this awful company has spent €550,000 on public relations in its first 13 months.

Surely it is entitled to a refund? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – Today I challenged a man who was taking photographs of the front of my house and those of my neighbours. It transpired he was working for Irish Water and they needed images of our houses. This means that the data collected and stored by Irish Water will include our name, email, phone number, address, bank account details, signature, PPS number and photograph of our dwellings. Is all this personal data required enough or would Irish Water also like a photograph of me in the shower? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Contrary to what RTÉ has been broadcasting recently, FM is not widely available in the north of Ireland and there is no digital signal here either.

I was amused to hear on the radio that RTÉ will travel to the “UK” to see what the problems are. What they mean is they will travel to Britain. What about those of us on the island of Ireland who will not be able to receive RTÉ without considerable financial outlay?

This issue is one that our politicians on both sides of the Border should be resolving and not RTÉ alone. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Depriving thousands of Irish people at home and, more importantly, abroad of this much-loved service will save a quarter of a million euro. RTÉ employs individuals working part-time for more than that amount. Who proposed this blunder? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – I write as the son of parents who left Ireland in the 1950s and started a new life in Birmingham and for whom the radio from home was hugely important – a way of keeping in touch, whether that was through news, music or sport. I recall many happy hours spent with my late father listening to GAA matches on a Sunday afternoon either in the comfort of our home or in the company of like-minded people gathered together in parks or on the touchline at GAA matches played in Birmingham. My continuing love of Gaelic sport was fired by those transmissions and has caused me to travel to Croke Park on many occasions. My mother still listens to RTÉ, falling into silence at the Angelus bell and tapping her feet to Céilí House. Simple pleasures that will be lost to her and many others. It is to RTÉ’s shame that the longwave transmission is to cease with no readily accessible replacement. It is a case out of sight, out of sound! – Yours, etc,


Hall Green,


Sir, – Surely now is the perfect opportunity for RTÉ to introduce the digital radio (DAB) service, currently available in just three regions in Ireland (Cork, Limerick and the greater Dublin area) to the entire country?

In the meantime, my digital radio remains as useful as an e-voting machine or a postcode here in the Kingdom. – Yours, etc,



Co Kerry.

A chara, – Finally details regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have emerged from the shadows. If we are not careful, the citizens of Europe will sleepwalk into accepting an agreement that will fundamentally rebalance powers from ordinary people to multinational companies. The US negotiators seek to create a Europe where sovereign governments will be constrained from enacting progressive trade union legislation or even from raising the minimum wage. A Europe where environmental issues become increasingly irrelevant. A Europe where our food safety standards are lowered to those of the US. A Europe where public services such as education are plundered for profit. A Europe where billions of our tax euro will be given in compensation to big business by a secretive tribunal. A Europe that will be less democratic, less progressive and less secure. – Is mise,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – Under the headline “President seeks a new vision for European Union” (October 16th), you report President Michael D Higgins as saying, among other things, the following in the course of an address to the Institute of International and European Affairs: “There is nothing wrong with technical efficiency, rather the contrary. The danger arises from a conception of economic policy and technocratic administration that are governed chiefly by the instrumental criteria of ‘efficiency’ and ‘success’ and are thus immune to moral-normative considerations ” .

Even allowing for the forum in which he was speaking, the second sentence must surely be in the running for a 2014 Fog Index prize. We simple folk also take an interest in what our President does and says. I, as one of them, can only guess at what immunity to “moral-normative considerations” entails. – Yours, etc,


Arklow, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I welcome the letter from my distinguished colleague, Frank Bannister (October 15th). When a great university such as UCD declines to below 200 in the World Rankings we must say that enough is enough. Nor can we accept spin about Trinity itself in the “prestigious” top 150.

The education of our undergraduates, in large part by inexperienced postgraduates, is a long-continuing scandal.

The Labour Party’s abolition of third-level fees in 1995 was just another bonus for the sons and daughters of bankers. It did little or nothing for the many brilliant Irish children from working-class backgrounds without access to our great universities. We must restore fees for those middle-class and upwardly mobile families able to afford them and add scholarships for those of poor backgrounds unable to face the prospect of adding future debt to present deprivation. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 2

Sir, – The article “Bishops warn of secularisation of Catholic schools” (October 13th) quotes from the report Catholic Education at Second Level: Looking to the Future, which says, among other things, that “religious education deals with ultimate questions” and goes on to suggest that as such religion should be afforded a special status. So is this report saying that those of us of no religion are unable to deal with “the ultimate questions”? Or that schools of no denominational status are unable to facilitate and encourage any philosophical debate? I think not. In fact, I think that those with no faith-based prejudices are better able to facilitate debate on the ultimate questions. – Yours, etc,


Clonsilla, Dublin 15.

Sir, – The Central Bank’s move to place restrictions on mortgages is a welcome first step in stabilising house prices. Yet it is astonishing to listen to people complain simply because the new rules prevent them from borrowing beyond their means.

The boom proved that we as a nation are incapable of making rational decisions when it comes to buying property.

The seductive power of cheap credit and the relentless encouragement to get on the “property ladder” left many people vulnerable to pressured decisions that led to grave financial consequences. It is time we matured as a nation and realised that we must live within our means, and if it takes regulations to force us to do so, then so be it. – Yours, etc,



Co Louth.

Sir, – Further to Frank McCartan’s letter (October 11th), when and how did it become all right to inflict someone else’s idea of “music” on us, often at a volume that makes it impossible to ignore. I notice that both of the German-owned supermarkets have the solution – silence. – Yours, etc,


Drumcondra, Dublin 9.

Sir, – I find myself in agreement with the comments of Kieran McHugh (October 15th) regarding salaries in the 1970s. Working as a lab technician in Kevin Street in 1974 my salary was £27.50 per week, which on an annual basis was £1,430. Good money at the time. – Yours, etc,

MARY KING, Dublin 7.

Sir, – I wondered why the bus was crawling along what looked like an empty bus lane. It appeared that a long line of cars was encroaching on the lane, preventing the bus driver from using it. I wonder if car drivers could be asked to stay in their own lane. – Yours, etc,


Crumlin, Dublin 12.

Irish Independent:

I took immense pleasure in reading your coverage of the One Young World Summit, which brought people of diverse cultures to share their ideas and worries about the future.

This is a respite from the panic and fear caused by the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. The old and experienced have worked tirelessly to find cures and vaccinations to intractable diseases, to reduce conflicts and poverty and to reconcile communities in conflict.

As the Ebola outbreak has demonstrated, many have sacrificed their lives to save others’ lives; others have worked and are still working without recognition to bring the condition under control, to defend human rights, to protect the environment and to promote democracy and social justice across the globe.

These challenges will lurk on the horizons for decades to come.

Young people are the backbone of societies. The impetus to success lies on their shoulders. They fall prey to sexual enslavement, labour exploitation, rape, diseases and murder. Their point of view should be included in any meaningful debates intended to unravel daunting issues, from climate change to human rights violations and democratic governance.

By hosting this conference, Ireland has expanded democratic horizons, allowing the young to share concerns with the elders. This is a remarkable feat that is bound to galvanize the ingenuity and energy of citizens, create healthy societies, promote democracy, ecological integrity and equity – and ultimately lead to fairer and just society.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London NW2, UK

In thrall to the bondholders

When someone says we are paying €8bn a year in interest payments alone on our national debt, it tends not to be absorbed.

When they say that is the full tax paid by a total of 850,000 workers per annum paying €9,412 each, it certainly wakes you up.

It’s hoped that the most insidious taxes of late, in the form of water and property charges, will raise, at best €1bn per annum. If we were not paying that €8bn a year in interest, could you imagine the positive benefits it would have on all aspects of Irish life? And when you take this into account, the ridiculousness of even considering these tax impositions is clear.

But it’s unavoidable right? After all, some very prudent and thrifty bond market people lent Ireland real, hard cash so we could keep paying wages and funding our welfare and services, and they need to be rewarded in the form of interest bonuses.

However, like everything we accept about the economy, this is not the situation. This money is often provided by credit creation, ie, these people use banks to release credit to us based on our promise to pay them back. It is simply numbers typed into computers and it ensnares generations of our people.

It is funny how no economist, politician or commentator will say that the emperor has no clothes. An institution of our own could issue credit like this, most definitely interest free and partly or mostly debt free, if sufficiently controlled.

A significant proportion of the current national debt of €190bn is due to illusory credit creation based on our promise to pay. It could be written off at a stroke of a pen if the will was there, which it absolutely would be if the people knew the truth of it.

The irony is that the people who did lend Ireland real money are often our insurance and pension companies. So we ‘insure’ our individual futures but these companies use that contract to take our money and ensnare us via our national financing with hefty interest payments. Again, if we circulated our own credit, this would stop.

For those who would cry foul at the naivety of such an argument, well, if you believe it is okay for these bondholders to release credit to us that it then makes them legitimate creditors over Ireland and her people, then you believe these people own Ireland in perpetuity.

You see, they are the only ones who can ‘fund’ Ireland, therefore that means at any point they have the ‘potential energy’ to do this. That means before we have an idea of a new road or a school or increased welfare payments, they have control of it. Hence they own it both physically and ‘energetically’. Not us.

As I say, the stroke of a pen is all it takes.

Barry Fitzgerald

Lissarda, Co Cork

Bring on the bedroom tax

I must compliment the Government on its ability to balance the books by raising new taxes, especially the property tax and the water tax. The money is sorely needed to pay our TDs, public servants, semi-state bodies, etc.

However, there is scope for additional taxes which I believe no reasonable person would object to. In the old days, people living on the landlord’s estate had to pay tax on every window in their cabin, and if it had a chimney, they had to pay tax on that as well. More recently, in the UK, a bedroom tax has been proposed. Why not here?

Farmers in this country are very wealthy and it is only right that the Government should impose a tax on every cow, on every farm animal, and on every acre of land. That money could be usefully spent on those of us working in the public service. My Mercedes is now five years old and needs replacing.

Our social welfare funding is far too generous. There is no need for those of us contributing to a private or work pension to be paid the state pension. The state pension is only for paupers and silly people who did not make provision for their retirement. And it is absurd for the Government to provide welfare benefits and medical cards for people over 70.

As regards education, the Government should not pay student fees at all. I paid for all my degrees. Let me be frank. If you cannot pay for your education, you do not need it. Now, that’s common sense.

Today, money is king and we are very fortunate to have a Government that recognises that fact.

James M Bourke

Terenure, Dublin 6

Gaza response

I have just seen Dr Derek O’Flynn’s comments on my letter (Irish Independent, October 3) concerning the situation in Gaza. I am so pleased that he agrees with me in that subtle, nuanced, Irish way. As we say Derek, “aithnionn ciarog ciarog eile”. Gurbh maith agat.

Ted O’Keeffe

Ranelagh, Dublin 6

ECB came to our rescue

In his letter (Irish Independent, October 16), Simon O’Connor asserts that the ECB and EU threatened to “bankrupt Ireland” if we did not rescue the banks. He omits to mention the fact that, thanks to the decisions of a small number of its own most powerful citizens, this country, including its banks, was already bankrupt and that it was the ECB and EU, along with the IMF, that came to our rescue, using other countries’ taxpayers’ money.

He rightly points to the fact that the “rising tide of protest” across the country is a recognition of “the number of homeless”, “the number of suicides” and the length of “hospital waiting lists.”

He fails to mention, however, that, despite the rising tide of protest, the majority of people eligible to vote in the recent by-elections did not bother to turn up to vote.

Lastly, he omits to mention the fact that all of this has a background of a recently bankrupt and a currently over-borrowed country.

A Leavy

Sutton, Dublin 13

Rome should show compassion

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin recently spoke compassionately in support of divorced couples. Jesus, too, was a compassionate person.

Shortly afterwards, an Australian couple entertained the Vatican synod on the joys of sex.

Apparently, it was less easy to get children of divorced couples who might talk about the joys of separation.

Donal O’Driscoll

Blackrock, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

Blood Transfusion

October 16, 2014

16 October 2014 Blood Transfusion

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I tidy the office and Mary is off for a Blood Transfusion.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gamon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Hugh Rae – obituary

Hugh Rae was a Glaswegian riveter’s son who wrote bodice-rippers as ‘Jessica Stirling’

Hugh Rae

Hugh Rae Photo: THE SCOTSMAN

5:28PM BST 15 Oct 2014


Hugh Rae, who has died aged 78, was a 15-stone Glaswegian son of a riveter and wrote blockbusting historical romantic fiction, mostly set in his native Scotland, under the nom de plume Jessica Stirling.

Rae began his literary career writing crime thrillers under his own name. The idea for Jessica Stirling was dreamed up in a coffee shop in Stirling where Rae was eating chocolate cake with Peggy Coghlan, an author of romantic short stories. Together they came up with Jessica, named after a publisher who had suggested that the two might collaborate on a historical romantic epic set in the Victorian period. It had to be written under a female pseudonym because, as Rae explained, “for some reason they [the publishers] are convinced that women only want to read romantic fiction written by women”.

With Peggy Coghlan, Rae wrote seven Jessica Stirling novels, and he went on to write some 30 more Jessica Stirling books on his own for Hodder & Stoughton, churning out about two a year and becoming one of the most popular authors of the “saga novel”, a genre perfected by Catherine Cookson.

Rae claimed that the experience had given him insights into the female psyche (“You women are all obsessed with your hair”), while his knowledge of the intricacies of female lingerie was second to none (“I know I probably spend longer wondering about women’s corsets than is healthy”).

Novels by Jessica Stirling (aka Hugh Rae)

For some 25 years his publishers faithfully preserved the fiction that Jessica Stirling was a woman, and for some years Rae was banned from speaking to the press. But his cover was blown in 1999 when Jessica Stirling’s new bestseller The Wind from the Hills, the second of a trilogy set in Mull in the 1890s (“Love did not burst upon Innis like a glorious red and gold Mull sunset after a day of torrential rain…”), was shortlisted for the Parker Romantic Novel of the Year prize, the bodice-ripping equivalent of the Booker.

After the story of Jessica’s true identity broke on an astounded literary world, Rae was nonplussed: “I don’t know what all the fuss was about. I had been out of the closet for about 20 years in Scotland, going to libraries and giving talks as Jessica in my hiking boots.”

Hugh Crauford Rae was born in the Knightswood district of Glasgow on November 22 1935 and published his first stories aged 11 in the Robin comic, winning a cricket bat the same year in a children’s writing competition. After leaving school at 16 he found a job in the antiquarian department of a Glasgow bookshop, where he spent 12 years, interrupted by National Service in the RAF. He continued writing short stories, many of which were published in American magazines. His first novel, Skinner, published in the mid-1960s when he was 28, was based on the case of the serial killer Peter Manuel, who was hanged at Barlinnie Prison for seven murders. The advance paid by the publishers allowed him to give up his job to become a full time writer.

Rae continued to write thrillers and crime fiction under his own name and a number of pseudonyms — his thriller The Marksman was made into a film by the BBC — but none of his other books was as successful as those he wrote as Jessica Stirling, which sold millions and were reported (in 1999) to be earning him more than £50,000 a year.

Rae’s novels were meticulously researched and, before starting a new work, he would spend up to £500 on books dealing with the relevant historical period. His last Jessica Stirling title, The Constant Star, was published in August.

Rae lectured in creative writing at Glasgow University Adult Education classes and served on the Scottish Arts Council and on committees of the Scottish Association of Writers and Society of Authors in Scotland.

Hugh Rae was predeceased by his wife, Liz. Their daughter survives him.

Hugh Rae, born November 22 1935, died September 24 2014


Sadiq Khan MP at Westminster, London, Britain  - 11 Oct 2012 Sadiq Khan is the man charged with restoring Labour’s fortunes against the Green party in the opinion polls. Photograph: Jonathan Goldberg/Rex

So Sadiq Khan MP, who has been charged by Labour’s election campaign manger Douglas Alexander to lead the fightback against Green gains in the opinion polls (Report, 15 October), thinks that Labour has changed and it shares Green values and “will be a government [Green supporters] can be proud of”. Really? Mr Khan is either delusional or very ill-informed on Green party policies. The Greens oppose all UK nuclear weapons worldwide and oppose replacing the £100bn Trident nuclear weapons system of mass destruction; the Greens oppose arms sales; the Greens oppose the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership presently being cooked up by big business in their own interests; the Greens oppose fracking; and the Greens oppose nuclear energy, and particularly the building of the taxpayer-subsidised £34bn new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point C (HPC).

Labour supports all of these. Indeed, on HPC, Tom Greatrex, Labour’s shadow energy minister, last week welcomed the European commission decision to permit massive subsidies for HPC, telling Business Green: “The commission’s decision emphasises the delivery of value for the consumer, and serves as a reminder to the government that transparency and accountability are important principles.”

Confusingly, Mr Greatrex subsequently wrote to the National Audit Office and parliament’s public accounts committee, requesting them to review the subsidies, stating: “We must ensure that consumers are getting the best possible deal in the construction of Hinkley Point C. The substantial changes brought about by the European commission raise questions about whether further scrutiny could lead to additional improvements.”

Labour’s position on HPC is as clear as mud. There are many deep green lines Labour has to cross before it has any chance of luring Green voters to switch. I am not holding my breath.
David Lowry
Stoneleigh, Surrey

• So, Sadiq Khan will be trying to persuade Green voters, rather than by scaring or intimidating them to vote Labour at the general election? If so, perhaps Khan could explain why Caroline Lucas’s seat in Brighton is one of Labour’s target seats. During the current parliament, Lucas is widely regarded as the most effective opposition MP. For many of us, she is the real leader of the opposition inside and outside parliament and puts Ed Miliband’s performances to shame. The reason for the “Green surge” is dissatisfaction with Labour’s merely being a negative alternative to the Con-Dem government. The Greens give the hope that Labour doesn’t.
David Melvin
Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire

• Given the findings of the 2014 annual Credit Suisse global wealth report which shows that the UK is the most unequal of all the G7 economies (Report, 15 October); and given that we know citizens of more economically equal societies enjoy happier and healthier and more fulfilling lives than those who live in highly unequal ones; that children from poor families are more likely to underachieve in schools than those from wealthier backgrounds; that the availability of good affordable housing – either to rent or to buy – is increasingly beyond the means of even middle-earners; and that substantial reductions in income and wealth differences are positively consequential for moves towards an environmentally sustainable way of life, why doesn’t the Labour leadership specify by how much it would like in government to redistribute income and wealth from the top 1% to the bottom 10% in order to promote greater equality, and how it would do so? Such a commitment, including proposals, would distinguish the Labour party from all the others in a graphic and electorally appealing fashion. It would also articulate well with the “One nation Labour” notion and Ed Miliband’s “togetherness” idea, not to mention the “democratic socialist” identity enshrined in the Labour’s constitution.
David Halpin

• It is not a question of immigration being a good or a bad thing for the UK (Letters, 14 October). It is far more complex. In economic terms, the fact is that the UK has never managed such a substantial unplanned rise in surplus labour as it has in the last 10 years. In recent times we’ve seen the re-emergence of the default tendency of many UK businesses to manage their operations with employees that can be easily laid off (or zero contracted) rather than take the risk of investing in new plant, machinery and technology. This is the explanation for why the number of people in employment has risen latterly while investment has remained stubbornly flat. Hence the UK’s much-vaunted labour flexibility and open borders are now actively contributing to the UK’s poorer productivity performance.

The UK economy derives so much of its activity from consumer spending that greater numbers of relatively low-paid people in work may boost overall GDP growth marginally but not increase GDP per capita, which is an arguably more important metric. As has been recently reported, the recent rise in employment in the UK has not led to an increase in income tax receipts to the HMRC, which entirely supports this thesis.

The reintroduction of immigration controls to limit the number of citizens entering the UK from anywhere, including other EU countries, is pretty much inevitable. This is not because immigration per se is a bad thing but because the uncontrolled movements of people may, at times, have unforeseen adverse effects. Until economists, university professors and politicians of different persuasions grasp this, Ukip will have a free ride in the immigration debate.
Andrew Harris
Wallingford, Oxfordshire

• Still in their own English rotten boroughs It is nice to know the spirit of Dame Shirley Porter lives on in Barnet council, when an estate will be redeveloped so that only the wealthy can afford the affordable housing (At yacht parties in Cannes, councils have been selling our homes from under us, 14 October). This will help turn West Hendon ward Tory and so in response, to an objector, Cllr Tom Davey naturally says: “Those are the people we want.” And yet, in the 50-year history of the borough, the Conservatives have only once won more the half the votes, but have misruled for all but eight years.

Labour must be regretting failing to introduce preference votes, like in Scotland, for local elections, now Ukip is on the rise in their own heartlands, having been able to ignore and sideline more moderate opinions. As the party base has withered away, the metropolitan elite has been able to parachute favoured candidates into safe parliamentary seats while taking their own activists for granted. The adoption of the single transferable vote, in lower-turnout local elections, would introduce some desperately needed stability with an injection of plurality and diversity without, like the list system used for the European parliament, giving lazy extremists an easy ride.
David Nowell
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

• The pattern of Ukip’s development has for some time been predictable to students of far-right interwar history: Ukip support will grow and result in a substantial bloc of MPs in 2015 – money is coming through (from whom?), defections have begun. Many Tories, half Eurosceptic already, would ally with Ukip, more will defect, Cameron is losing control. Labour, under Miliband and Balls, has been a singularly inept opposition. The only party consistently opposing Ukip and the suicidal proposals to exit from Europe and ditch human rights are the Lib Dems, with Nick Clegg the only leader openly to challenge Farage. Many are frightened of stating publicly the real danger Ukip presents – and that may drive more people into Ukip’s ranks. Democrats must speak out and actively campaign against the highly dangerous populism of Farage.
Peter Mullarky
Horsham, West Sussex

Lord Freud disability remarks Welfare reform minister Lord Freud, who has suggested some disabled people are ‘not worth’ the full minimum wage. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

While ministers vilify people on benefits (Freud sorry for comment about disabled people, 15 October), we urge everyone who thinks this is wrong to stand up for benefit justice. Attacks on benefits threaten everyone who is low-paid, not working, sick, has disabilities or plain unlucky. Freezing housing and other benefits would cut the income of 50% of households – those with least money, without work or on low pay, zero hours and high rent. The threat to remove all benefit from people under 21 – many in full-time work, with children, and without rich families to support them – shows ministers’ contempt for our young people and how tough life is for them.

The least well-off, in work or not, did not cause the deficit, triggered by trillions in bank bailouts and subsidies. Why should they be penalised, while the richest benefit from more tax cuts? We should not stigmatise or blame each other, but defy and beat these attacks on Britain’s welfare safety net. We can force ministers to retreat, as we have in the fight against Atos, workfare and the bedroom tax. Now is the time to stand up and be counted. We will be supporting the TUC’s Britain Needs a Pay Rise demonstration on Saturday 18 October.
Ellen Clifford Disabled People Against Cuts
Eileen Short Anti Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice Federation
John McDonnell MP Lab, Hayes and Harlington
Mark Serwotka PCS union general secretary
Len McCluskey Unite union general secretary
Austin Mitchell MP Lab, Great Grimsby, chair council housing group of MPs
Ian Lavery MP Lab, Wansbeck
Natalie Bennett Leader, Green party
Dot Gibson General secretary, National Pensioners Convention
Paul Kenny GMB union general secretary
Billy Hayes CWU union general secretary

• What Jeremy Hunt is actually saying (Pay rises would mean loss of 15,000 nurses says Hunt, 13 October) is that thousands of health workers need to take a pay cut in order to fund the NHS properly. Why is this fairer than everyone paying a small tax increase? Isn’t that how the collective model of health funding is supposed to work?
Ian Reissmann
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Ada Lovelace Ada Lovelace

I read with interest about Ada Lovelace Day (This woman’s work, G2, 14 October), as I too was a programmer at Elliot Brothers from 1951-53. I wrote the first in-house program for its prototype computer “Nicholas”, as well as the “initial orders” that instructed Nicholas how to read and assemble the punched tape holes which were to be fed to it. I left Elliot Brothers to marry and live in Cornwall. It was another 10 years before the first computer made an appearance. After bringing up my children I was informed by the government training department that anyone over 35 was past it as far as computers were concerned and I should concentrate on shorthand and typing. Eventually the advent of the PC remedied this. Now in my old age, I have no regrets for not making a fortune as did Dina St Johnston and Dame Stephanie Shirley. My riches are my memories of Cornwall, its beautiful coast and its Celtic culture. These too can change the world.
Brighid Simpkin

Woman with fingers in ears Piped music pain … wire-cutters should do the trick. Photograph: Aagamia/Getty Images

Imagine my surprise when, after very many years of trying, we have won the Azed crossword and the Guardian prize in the same week. What is more astounding is that someone else (MP Coan of Edinburgh) has the same achievement. What are the odds on this?
Allan and Jenny Cheetham
Upminster, Essex

• How about confining Brand, Emin and Fry to the letters page and giving some editorial space to Flett, Bright and Nicholson (Letters, 15 October)?
Pete Bibby

• Mrs Clooney is to advise on Greece’s claim for the return of the Elgin marbles (Report, 14 October). She might want to look closer to home. The font from our church, in which Mayflower Pilgrim Father William Brewster was baptised, languishes in a church in Mr Obama’s neighbourhood of Southside Chicago. Can we have it back please?
Ed Marshall
Scrooby, Nottinghamshire

• Christopher Hogwood (Obituary, 24 September) was not only an early musician but also an early activist against piped music. A model to us all, he would carry and occasionally bring into play a small pair of wire-cutters. Once, in a Cambridge restaurant, he asked if the inevitable Vivaldi might at least be turned down. As the waiter went off to attend to the request, a diner at the next table leant over and murmured sympathetically “We’re not musical either.”
Richard Abram
Wanstead Park, Essex

• Interesting statistics regarding women readers and your letters page (Open door, 13 October). I read it daily and often this results in breakfast table discussions. Perhaps male readers feel more of an urge to tell the wider world what they think.
Annette Dent
Bradford, West Yorkshire


The rising numbers of cases of Ebola is alarming. I am confused as to why the precautions to prevent the spread of this incredibly infectious virus are so different from those that would be adopted in the case of animal diseases. In the latter case we would see bans on movement of livestock from affected areas and other countries would prohibit the import of any animal or possibly affected product.

In this case the only precaution to prevent spread into the UK is a questionnaire which will almost certainly be ineffective and in any case will be applied too late to prevent infection of airport staff, other passengers and local health workers.

Is it not time to prevent any movement of people in and out of any country having several cases in the general population, except in exceptional cases, and then after a period in quarantine?

Britain must be a likely place for Ebola to occur, given that we have decided to allow our airports, particularly Heathrow, to be used a transit points for travellers from all over the world. The risk of disease transmission should surely be taken into account when considering whether this role should be expanded even further by the building of additional runways.

The profits of the airlines and the airport operators should not take precedence over the health of the local population.

Nigel Long

The Government has decided that there is sufficient risk to introduce Ebola screening on UK arrival. This implies that airline and other staff are exposed to that risk in transit.

What about the duty of care their employers owe them? What about the risk to passengers? Furthermore, aircraft may need special disinfection measures before reuse.

There needs to be much more rigorous screening, perhaps quarantine, before people are even permitted to leave high-risk countries, particularly for their own good.

Giles du Boulay
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Lying-in-state for a murderous king

The discovery of the remains of King Richard III has done nothing to dispel the fierce controversy surrounding his reputation (“Richard’s car park bones to be reinterred, after three days lying in state”, 15 October).

Despite all the protestation of the king’s “Ricardian” enthusiasts, it remains the consensus among historians of the period that Richard seized the throne illegally, arranged the judicial murder of Lord Hastings and was almost certainly guilty of having his nephews murdered in the Tower. His remains are of valid academic interest but holding an elaborate funeral procession followed by a lying-in-state for a murderer is quite inappropriate.

Still, at least now that we know where his grave will be, arrangements can be made to dance on it.

Dr Sean Lang
Senior Lecturer in History
Anglia Ruskin University


It is to be hoped that amid the pageantry and prayers that will accompany Richard III to his second grave there will be some remembrance of the men who were put to death to facilitate his becoming, as the Ricardians love to put it, “an anointed king”.

His sister-in-law’s relatives and associates Rivers, Vaughan, Grey and Haut were executed, apparently without trial, and their bodies dumped in some pit in Pontefract more nameless than a Leicester municipal car park. Lord Chamberlain Hastings was beheaded at a moment’s notice on Richard’s direct orders.

His nephews, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, escaped with their lives only in the imagination of Richard III’s ardent fan club, which constantly reminds us that Richard was, as medieval kings go, a benign ruler, a sort of grandaddy of the welfare state. Might not these latter good deeds have been inspired by a guilty conscience?

Peter Forster
London N4


No excuses for Boko Haram

Professor Garry’s claim (letter, 15 August) that removing girls from their families against their will is normal in Northern Nigeria comes dangerously close to providing an excuse for Boko Haram.

The decision to marry off a girl is made by the family; and these girls’ families had taken the decision to educate their girls beyond marrying age (15). Furthermore, they came from mainly Christian families, who would not have consented to marrying their daughters to Muslims, or indeed to having their girls sold as concubines, fifth wives or slaves.

Thus, even if Boko Haram had conscientiously thought that these girls ought to be married, they must in conscience be consistent and defer to the families’ rights in this matter, which they did not.

Furthermore, if they were so conscientiously Muslim, why have so many of the girls been raped? Does not Islam forbid rape?

Culture is not a genuine explanation for this behaviour. It was kidnapping, rape and religious intolerance on a massive scale, and so for the kidnappers there should be not the tiniest excuse or the slightest mercy.

Francis Beswick
Stretford, Greater Manchester

When teachers had to take an oath

Brian Dalton, in his letter of 13 October, is rightly contemptuous of “oath-taking” by teachers. If this is the best idea that Tristram Hunt can bring back from Singapore, educational policy in this country has a mountain to climb.

As a teacher in southern China for many years, I was routinely asked to take such “oaths” and always refused. Foreign teachers were often asked to write “codes of conduct” for themselves, and at one stage to organise “self-criticism” groups, as though Mao Zedong were alive and well, and we had failed to quote passages from his little red book to an appropriately ardent and heartfelt standard.

Such suggestions were always made after pupil misconduct, where Chinese management seemed ineffective, or after some other crisis where management sought to deflect blame and change the subject.

“See how you foreigners can improve yourselves,” was a routine dodge I well recall. Is this really what we want here?

If Mr Hunt regards a “Hippocratic oath” as remotely relevant to education in this country, I suggest he start by taking one himself.

Something beginning “I do solemnly swear to get a grip…” should do.

Mike Galvin
Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire


Unfair to denounce Nigel Farage

Ukip does not  stigmatise people who are HIV positive (letter, 14 October). Ukip is very sympathetic. However, we have a National Health Service, not an international one. The NHS is in dire straits with a £30bn black hole and cannot afford to treat the whole world.

Similarly, Ukip does not demonise Eastern Europeans. We do not have the room and the infrastructure for 250,000 extra people every year. Also, with the EU open-door policy other countries outside the EU including our Commonwealth cousins are discriminated against and cannot come here.

Ukip believes in an NHS free of charge, but other governments have allowed privatisation on a large scale, such as PFI arrangements from the Labour Government, which has saddled our children and grandchildren with a debt for years to come.

Ukip believes in low taxes, especially to take all those on minimum wage out of tax altogether.

Nigel Farage is not a populist. He has worked tirelessly and given up his life to get the country out of the undemocratic and corrupt EU. Whatever people’s views on this, we have never had a say since 1975. He is a conviction politician. Why should people denounce him? We used to have free speech in this country.

Barbara Fairweather
Bicester, Oxfordshire


I find it somewhat baffling that Mr Farage, while slating “Westminster parties” and “Westminster politicians” seems to be straining every nerve and sinew precisely to become one of them.

Angela Peyton
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Smoking ban in the wrong place

What a pointless suggestion from Lord Darzi, to ban smoking in parks. I have never been inconvenienced by smokers in the vast open spaces of our public parks, where I can easily avoid them.

If Lord Darzi would like to become a genuine do-gooder, why doesn’t he propose a ban on smoking at bus stops, where it is almost impossible to escape from the noxious fumes emanating from those recalcitrant baddies?

Alan Pedley
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire

Talkative cookware

I think kitchen appliances do talk to each other, even before the “internet of things” arrives (letter, 14 October). The pot has been calling the kettle black for years.

Tony Taylor
Church Minshull, Cheshire


Sir, Those correspondents blaming Andrew Lansley are misguided (letters, Oct 14 and 15). Multiple serious errors have originated in the health department, leading to huge financial waste. The loss of well-trained professionals is a reflection of the way the department has demoralised the NHS. Radical change is needed but the present problems cannot be solved by one top-down restructuring, and increased funding is not the answer.
Thomas Bucknill
London W14

Sir, The two main reasons for the rise in the number of patients waiting for surgery (“This is going to hurt”, Oct 13) is the increase in avoidable emergency medical admissions to empty surgical beds reserved for long-awaited elective operations, and delayed discharges. Emergency admissions can be minimised by setting up a “hospital at home”, which has been successfully piloted and has the advantage of not uprooting elderly people from their own surroundings. Delayed discharges cost £24.5 million in August alone, and many such patients are unnecessarily made “prisoners” and forced into a care home against their will.
Dr M Shaukat Ali
Emeritus consultant physician, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich

Sir, The calls for more money for the NHS reflect both the unsustainable growth in funding by the last government and the unrealistic expectations it raised. Labour’s borrowing was made available in short order for political purposes, too short to train more GPs and surgeons: it sucked in staff who were unable to treat patients and discharge them with confidence. At the same time, erosion of the gatekeeper role damaged GPs’ ability to reassure patients and families that they don’t necessarily need high-tech medicine. The effect of this is being seen in overloaded emergency rooms and wards.
Adam P Fitzpatrick
Consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist, Macclesfield, Cheshire

Sir, That there are nearly 300 serious mistakes during surgery (“The good, the bad and the ugly”, Oct 14) should be a matter of national concern. But some “never events” go unaddressed or even unidentified because of a lack of regulation for professionals with responsibilities for patients’ wellbeing — for instance, those who assess the working of pacemakers. Such staff are not subject to fitness to practice tests and are outside the scope of the much anticipated “duty of candour”. They cannot be sanctioned in the way that doctors or nurses can be struck off. The government must address this matter urgently.
Amanda Casey
Chairwoman, Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists

Sir, Professor Mike Richards encourages the NHS to achieve a quality that matches “Sainsbury’s, Tesco or M&S” (“Grimy hospital wards as bad as Mid Staffs, warns watchdog”, Oct 14). Competition between these organisations is surely a major factor in quality improvement. The Health and Social Care Bill encouraged a tendering process and this is one means whereby competition can be developed in the NHS. I do not consider that a bad thing. Tendering is not unfair, usually heavily influenced by healthcare professionals, and is a gateway to innovative service delivery that is otherwise difficult to attain in a monolithic health service.
Dr Chris Loughran
Macclesfield, Cheshire

Sir, It is a canard that the health department “can’t afford a pay rise in addition to increments”. Increments cost nothing: as some staff gain a point, others leave to be replaced by someone five points below them. “Incremental drift” ensures the wage bill is the same.
Robert Keys
Danbury, Essex

Sir, In reply to John Nairn (letter, Oct 15), when I was working in the NHS my “vested interests” were my patients and my medical, nursing and ancillary colleagues.
Dr Mike Lewis
Axbridge, Somerset

Sir, The NHS salary structure means that many doctors reach the HMRC pension cap in their mid 50s. There will be no public sympathy for this plight, but it is resulting in unprecedented early retirement. Losing our medical seniors a decade early is unfortunate for the public.
Simon Jackson
Consultant gynaecologist, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford

Sir, I asked one of my GPs if I could have a named doctor. I was told not until I was 75 years old. A patient’s medical history ought to play a part, not age alone.
Peter MG Hime

Sir, Dr Stuart Sanders (letter, Oct 14) proposes that the running of the NHS should be placed in the hands of a board of trustees. Can I suggest that the same should be done with education? Both are far too important to be left to the mercies of the short-term expediency that appears to drive our politicians.
Michael Hasler
Totnes, Devon

Sir, It is short-sighted to deny nurses and midwives a significant pay rise. Recruitment is down, negligence claims are rising, and the NHS is increasingly reliant on expensive agency staff, some of whom will be unfamiliar with the procedures on their wards, possibly resulting in more litigation. Surely it would be more cost-effective to give nurses and midwives more money,
Dr Elaine Yeo
Enfield, Middx

Sir, Media coverage of the midwives’ strike appalled me. We saw moving footage of women giving birth and ecstatic nurses saying that the joy of seeing a new baby is reward enough — but joy will not pay their bills or fund their mortgages.
Susan Higgins
Surbiton, Surrey

Sir, Why not have a government-run NHS lottery? We would all buy tickets. Our local hospitals could be saved. Everyone would be a winner.
Ann Wilson
Eastbourne, E Sussex

Sir, Apropos the remake of Dad’s Army, might I suggest to the new members of the platoon that they bear in mind the words of Sgt Wilson: “Do you think that’s wise, sir?”
His Honour Judge Denyer, QC
Bristol Civil Justice Centre

Sir, When my teacher Elisabeth Lutyens asked Constant Lambert to explain a zeugma (letters, Oct 13 and 14), he replied swiftly that one could draw a cork, nude or conclusion.
Brian Elias
London NW11

Sir, If a management consultant uses a client’s watch to tell them the
time (letter, Oct 15), be assured the client is someone with a very expensive watch who doesn’t know the time of day.
Leon Pollock
Fellow of the Institute of Consulting,
Sutton Coldfield, W Midlands

Sir, With the increasing repetition of the name of the Ukip leader, I am hopeful broadcasters will encourage us to use the word “garage” with its proper pronunciation.
Keith Turner
Horringer, Suffolk

Sir, What appears to be missing from debate over the Human Rights Act is mention of its beneficial effect on public administration. Every bill presented to parliament must contain a ministerial certificate that it will comply with the 1998 act, and every act or decision of a civil servant will have ensured that theact is observed. Coincidentally, in his book Servant of the Crown, David Faulkner states that the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights have been “a healthy discipline in the formation of policy and for drafting of legislation”, but adds that politically, “the act has come to be seen as an obstacle to be overcome, not a standard to live up to”.
Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, QC
London N1


Get a load of this: horse manure delivered to your door Photo: GETTY IMAGES

6:55AM BST 15 Oct 2014


SIR – For our eldest son’s birthday, we bought him, at his suggestion, a ton of manure, which was delivered directly to his allotment.

We didn’t even have to wrap it, and we paid for it online.

Rev John Fairweather-Tall
Plymouth, Devon

Lost marbles

SIR – Having involved herself in the Elgin Marbles controversy Mrs Clooney (née Alamuddin) might like to campaign for the return of Henry VIII’s last suit of armour, which currently resides in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Eddie Hazel
Haywards Heath, West Sussex

Unsolicited charity

SIR – I am increasingly concerned about the amount of marketing material I receive from charities, often including “bribes” such as pens and greetings cards. The other day I was sent a pedicure kit.

I do regularly support several charities but there is a limit to what can be afforded. Surely this nuisance is counter-productive for the very people it is trying to help?

John Vandenberghe
Hacheston, Suffolk

SIR – I have received an envelope from the British Red Cross containing a pen, a notebook, two cards and a bookmark. I am in need of none of them, and would think the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Alex Perry
Thames Ditton, Surrey

No-go for sloe

SIR – This year, unlike 2013, we picked a good crop of plums, apples and pears, but our local hedgerows are virtually bare of sloes. We are now in search of an alternative seasonal tipple.

John H Stephen
Bisley, Gloucestershire

Union: freedom of movement is a fundamental right guaranteed to all EU citizens Photo: Reuters

6:57AM BST 15 Oct 2014


SIR – Boris Johnson is mistaken when he says that David Cameron can regain control of Britain’s borders by reform of the European Union.

The free movement of persons is intrinsic to the existence of the EU. It was a core part of the original Treaty of Rome in 1957 and from the early days of the European Economic Community nationals of member states could travel freely from one member state to another. This is now a fundamental right guaranteed to all EU citizens by The Schengen Agreement, which led to the creation of Europe’s borderless Schengen Area in 1995.

EU Commissioners and other EU leaders have constantly reiterated that reimposition of border controls between EU countries can never be permitted.

Dr Max Gammon
London SE16

SIR – The population of Southampton is around 240,000, which is roughly the figure of net migration to Britain last year. What effect does this annual influx have on real wage levels, demand for housing, traffic levels, and demand for GPs, hospital services and schools? The answer is, I believe, self evident.

Most economists and the Bank of England say they would like to see real wage levels rise, but the simple laws of supply and demand will prevent this happening. The consequences of this are far-reaching as Government tax take will not increase in line with the demand for public services and payment of pensions. We are starting to see this already.

Many who recognise these issues can see no alternative but to give Ukip their vote.

Barrie Middleton
Matlock, Derbyshire

Rule Britannia: the Bacup Coconutters perform pagan dances to welcome in the spring Photo: Getty Images

6:58AM BST 15 Oct 2014


SIR – It is ludicrous to suggest that the Morris dancers with whom David Cameron was photographed were racist because they put blacking on their faces. It is a disguise, not make-up to imitate black people, and no more racist than SAS soldiers blacking their faces before a night operation.

The Foxs Morris troupe is similar in this respect to the Bacup Coconut dancers from Lancashire, who suggest that once upon a time, blackened faces gave them the advantage of disguise as they sang and danced during unlicensed begging.

There is much unexplained in the ancient world of Morris dancing. Some dancers disguise themselves as green men and devils. Don’t tell us that the Greens and Satanists will complain that they are offended by this traditional mummery.

Catherine Jackson

SIR – Social historians agree that blackface in every form is of racist origin, and that Morris dancing is a mockery of African tribal dance.

Nadia Alnasser

A Palestinian girl stands in a destroyed building following an Israeli military strike in Gaza  Photo: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

6:59AM BST 15 Oct 2014


SIR – Parliament’s vote in favour of Palestinian statehood is welcome and, some may think, long overdue. Unfortunately for its Arab inhabitants, Hamas is not really a government as most people understand the term.

It is now decision time for the Israelis. Do they want to continue for ever protecting themselves from their neighbours with barbed wire, a wall, and anti-missile missiles?

Or will they finally admit that they have behaved disgracefully in taking by force land that, for generations, had been settled and owned by the Arabs?

The least they can now do is to apologise and try to make amends by helping the Arabs to reunite the separate parts of their country under a properly elected government.

Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire

SIR – Shame on Parliament for supporting a Palestinian state run by Muslim terrorists – for that is exactly what Hamas are.

Our MPs should be supporting Israel.

Sir Gavin Gilbey
Dornoch, Sutherland

Shrunken Parliament

SIR – When Tam Dalyell posed the famous West Lothian question, he was – like everyone else since – looking at the constitutional problem through the wrong end of the telescope.

When the British Parliament decides to devolve powers to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Greater London Authority, its own status is automatically affected. For example, the Cabinet ministers for health, education, and culture, media and sport, to name but three, are not UK ministers – they are ministers for England. Theresa May is the UK-wide minister for immigration, but not for police, which has been devolved.

The UK Parliament and its MPs are left to deal with the 15 “reserved powers”, including defence, foreign policy, financial and economic matters, and, of course, the constitution. The last one, alone, should keep them busy.

David Donald
St Vincent-Jalmoutiers, Dordogne, France

SIR – On what basis does Gordon Brown hold that English votes for English laws would prejudice the fragile Union but that the creation of the Scottish Parliament hasn’t already done so?

Perhaps he would prefer a clear-cut English parliament, on a par with the Scottish one.

I know I would.

Ken Stevens
Sonning Common, Oxfordshire

Savings: the NHS needs to reduce its costs Photo: Alamy

7:00AM BST 15 Oct 2014


SIR – If it is impossible to put more funding from taxation into the NHS, the only alternative – however unpalatable – is to reduce cost. The complexity of tendering, employment law and the compulsory monitoring of performance means that any reduction of administrators is also constrained. The only remaining avenue, and it needs to be examined, is for cost savings elsewhere.

The NHS has to be more selective about the duties it undertakes. Possible areas include reducing some elective procedures, making small deterrent charges for access to GPs and A&E, requiring proof of entitlement to treatment through National Insurance contributions, and insisting on the same guarantee of payment by foreign patients as is required of Britons when abroad.

Tony Jones
London SW7

SIR – Any objective analysis of the likely growth of the British economy and of the costs of health care demonstrates clearly that the current situation is not sustainable.

All political parties must have access to this data, and yet they choose to ignore it as they seek to boost their election prospects by pledging increasing amounts of public money to the NHS. This is not in the long-term interests of the country.

The NHS should provide world-leading treatment for life-threatening illnesses, not free care for those who choose to get so drunk they have to attend A&E.

I also hope that, when deciding which model to adopt for the NHS, those taking the decision look not just at the efficiency of the health care system but at the model that provides the best outcomes (in terms of survival rates) for patients.

Graham Taylor
Hastoe, Hertfordshire

SIR – Paul Keeling makes the common mistake of comparing Britain’s expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP relative to many other Western nations.

I believe that the cost-effectiveness of the expenditure is a more relevant guideline. In this, we rank 23 out of 29 in a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

David Miller
Maidenhead, Berkshire

SIR – Why did NHS Scotland not strike? Because they got the recommended 1 per cent pay rise.

It is about time people in the rest of the United Kingdom were treated fairly.

Anne Parmley
Blackpool, Lancashire

SIR – Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, says that if NHS staff get a pay rise, then the number of staff must be reduced.

This should apply to Members of Parliament.

David G Walters
Corbridge, Northumberland

Donations: these days tactics go beyond asking for a little loose change Photo: ALAMY

10:55AM BST 15 Oct 2014


SIR – I complained to the Red Cross about its sending of unsolicited gifts. A senior fundraiser told me that this practice generates higher receipts but assured me I would receive no more.

The gifts continue to arrive and I no longer support this charity or others who follow suit. If other readers did the same and notified the charities accordingly it might put an end to this unpleasant practice.

Diana Crook
Seaford, East Sussex

SIR – While I contribute to charities on a regular basis, I must express my annoyance at the intimidating tactics currently being employed by some collectors who position themselves in supermarket exit halls rattling collection boxes at eye level, partly blocking one’s path and, most annoyingly, making comments like “come on you can afford it”.

It is an intimidating and, I suspect, counter-productive practice. I note the name of the offending charity and promptly vote with my feet.

Ian Jones
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

Irish Times:

A chara, – There seems to be general positivity about the budget, and in comparison to the eight previous versions, this one is an improvement.

We should remember, however, that for someone being whipped while bound in shackles, if the whipping stops, it is an improvement but they remain shackled.

The USC tax persists, our pension savings continue to be raided and the impact of the property tax and water charges remain as extra indirect taxation for the majority of workers.

Regardless of the spin, it seems we shall remain shackled for the foreseeable future. – Is mise,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – In the interests of fairness and parity, will those of us who have our own supply of water and have our own wastewater facilities get tax relief on the cost of providing same? – Yours etc,




Co Cork.

Sir, – Now that the provision of water is no longer being paid for from general taxation (following the appropriate tax reductions in Budget 2015), can the opponents of water charges own up to the fact that their main motivation is just to squander as much as they want, just as they used to do with waste collection in the past? – Yours, etc,


Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Tuesday’s budget has been described as “the end of austerity”.

What does this signal for the Anti-Austerity Alliance? Is it now irrelevant? Maybe it should rebrand to AAA to focus on upgrading Ireland’s position with the credit rating agencies. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – As the Ministers have reduced the number of people obliged to pay the Universal Social Charge, shouldn’t it now be simply called the “Social Charge”? – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Last year the Minister introduced a single-person child carer credit to replace the single-parent tax credit.

This legislation discriminated against 50 per cent of separated parents, as only one parent – the so-called primary carer – was allowed to claim the new credit. Usually the primary carer is the mother.

Despite being repeatedly asked and lobbied about this, in the main from separated fathers, the Minister made no changes to this discriminatory legislation in the budget. Separated fathers should take note, discrimination in the tax system is to be maintained. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – I’m married to a smoker and I’ve learned over time that no one is going to tell him when he will quit. Yet the Government seems to think that by increasing the price of cigarettes very year in the budget will stop him smoking (an extra 40 cent this year, bringing the price of 20 cigarettes to €10). It’s not about the money. It’s about the addiction.

This is just a cheap and lazy money-making scheme for the exchequer and it should stop. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – It is very interesting that the new 11 per cent rate of USC for income over €100,000 only applies to the self-employed.

Apart from the fact that the new rate doesn’t apply to civil servants, TDs or Ministers, what is the justification for only targeting the self-employed and not fat cat employees?

I know turkeys don’t vote for Christmas but did the Ministers and their mandarins have to be so obvious? – Yours, etc,



Sir, – John McAvoy, former general manager of the CAO, strikes an inflammatory note in his condemnation of TCD’s foray into “alternative” entry assessment criteria (“Students are the guinea pigs in Trinity’s experiment”, Education Opinion, October 14th). But he’s right.

The Leaving Cert points race certainly has a lot of problems, but it is better than alternatives involving subjective judgment. Human judgment in entry selection has been shown to have very little ability to select students who will perform better (even when the judges are very confident in their own judgement).

Instead, it has been shown to increase social selectivity – you inevitably identify more with someone who resembles you. I don’t think for a moment it is TCD’s intention, but this scheme will increase the social exclusivity of their student body, benefiting the academically underperforming child of well-networked, affluent parents much more than the bright kid who needs a break.

There is one good element in TCD’s criteria, which is to rate students relative to their school. A student from an elite fee-charging school (or grind college) who gets 500 points is probably quite average, and you will see it in his or her university performance, but a student from a struggling school who gets 500 points is probably exceptional. A fair implementation would, of course, be very difficult. – Yours, etc,


Department of Sociology,

University of Limerick.

Sir, – John McAvoy’s recent piece on Trinity College Dublin’s new admissions experiment displayed an appalling refusal to consider alternatives to a challenging problem. Third-level education and admissions ought to acknowledge that students are not only being academically trained, but are also being prepared to enter into industry, government, or other careers. Basing admission solely on the Leaving Certificate ignores alternative skills and experiences that may be valuable for those end goals.

As an alumnus of both Trinity College Dublin and American universities, I find it striking that Mr McAvoy felt the need to belittle elements of Trinity’s experiment without considering their effective use, for decades, in other countries. Those systems may not be perfect, but neither is the Irish model.

Changing the system may impact some students, but it may also allow for engaged students to enter third-level education – students who previously may have been left on the outside looking in due to the Leaving Cert. Broadening the basis of admission may also encourage students to be engaged in elements of their community outside of academics.

I am often critical of Trinity College Dublin’s unwillingness to experiment and change. On this subject, however, I can only hope that their newfound institutional flexibility is replicated elsewhere in Ireland. – Yours, etc,


Lake Shore Drive,



Sir, – John McAvoy describes Trinity College’s experiment with alternative entry requirements as “outrageous”. As director of a third-level course, I keep an eye on the extent to which Leaving Cert results are predictive of first-year grades at university. While admittedly based on a small sample, my experience has shown that total Leaving Cert points is a far better predictor of third-level performance than any single Leaving Cert result taken in isolation. For example, total points are a better predictor of university maths grades than is a student’s actual Leaving Cert maths grade. This phenomenon may be related to the central limit theorem, which implies that a well-diversified outcome, such as performance at third level, is best predicted by a well-diversified set of tests. Relying strongly on any single component, such as the HPAT, or an essay, reduces predictive accuracy because it lowers the overall diversification of the measure. John McAvoy is right. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – Dr Anthony White suggests that our energy and climate change problems would be solved simply by converting Moneypoint power station to biomass (“Why wind is not the answer to Ireland’s energy question”, Opinion & Analysis, October 14th). This option has been examined many times in the past and, as most people would probably expect, the reality is not that simple.

Converting the plant would be complex and very costly, and would create a new dependence on imported fuel of volatile price and questionable environmental benefit. The Drax power plant in the UK cited by Dr White actually requires price supports almost double those paid in Ireland for wind energy, and its carbon saving benefit has recently been questioned by the UK’s chief scientific adviser on energy.

Why would we create a new dependence on other people’s resources to meet our energy needs? Ireland has excellent indigenous clean energy resources of many kinds, and we should exploit them all appropriately. For biomass, that means using local fuel supply to meet local heat needs, thereby keeping money in rural communities and creating jobs.

Wind energy is also benefitting Ireland. Our research in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland shows that in one year alone, 2012, wind energy reduced our carbon emissions by 1.5 million tonnes and our fossil fuel imports by €175 million. The detailed analysis showing this is available on our website.

Ireland needs to wean its energy system off exposure to €6.5 billion of imported fossil fuels, with associated emissions, at prices outside our control and with risks of disruption to supply. Wind and biomass both have their parts to play in this, but we should make our decisions based on facts and evidence, not wishful thinking. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,

Sustainable Energy

Authority of Ireland,

Wilton Park House,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Today is World Food Day, with events taking place across the globe to focus attention on the important role played by the family farm in ending hunger and poverty.

This week’s budget brought a halt to cuts in Ireland’s overseas development assistance spending for the first time in six years. While we are still some way short of our international pledge to invest 0.7 per cent of GDP in overseas aid, the Government’s decision to end successive cuts has to be regarded as a step in the right direction.

A significant part of our overseas development assistance budget is invested in efforts to end hunger in Africa and elsewhere across the world.

Helping smallholder farming families to produce more and earn more from their small farms is vital to this effort. Upwards of 70 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa rely directly on small farms for their livelihoods.

Only by committing resources to this area will we achieve the objectives of World Food Day, since it was first launched by the United Nations in 1981.

Growing more food is only a part of the equation, however, as the urgent need to improve nutrition for families is critical too if we are to end world hunger and poverty in our lifetime.

Although rarely listed as the direct cause, malnutrition is estimated to contribute to more than a third of all child deaths in Africa.

Poor nutrition in early years can also have a lifelong effect on health, increasing vulnerability to common ailments and reducing cognitive and learning abilities.

Within agriculture and food production we must address both the challenge of food production and of improving nutrition, as we focus on supporting the poor to feed their populations in the years ahead. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,

Gorta-Self Help Africa,

Kingsbridge House,

Parkgate Street,

Sir, – Attempts are often made by those opposed to any loosening of the severe restrictiveness of our abortion law under any circumstance to blur the lines between fatal and non-fatal foetal diagnoses. Barry Walsh (October 15th) lapses into this error.

Anencephaly is untreatable and always fatal. Appealing to the statistically remote chance of an anencephalic surviving for up to one or two years rather than days, hours or not at all, and invoking such anomalous cases to justify denying women the option of termination of an often longed-for pregnancy, while perhaps well-intentioned by some, is ultimately cruel to those women who cannot bear to bring a fatally malformed pregnancy to term.

I do agree with Mr Walsh that framing a constitutional amendment or legislation around this issue would be problematic.

Certainly, adding another constitutional clause to the mess of Article 40.3.3 would merely be shovelling more detritus onto this legislative midden. Consider the onerous and demeaning barriers placed before pregnant women and girls at risk of suicide in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. Are devastated women with fatal foetal diagnoses to be subjected to a panel (or two) of up to seven doctors?

The question asked by your poll, of course, is not misleading. Independent, unbiased opinion polling means asking the questions and letting the respondents think for themselves.

It is quite amazing to see anti-abortion campaigners shooting the messengers of all the opinion polls showing their position to be a minority one. The bogeyman of a perceived liberal media bias (“Pro Life Campaign criticises ‘extremely biased’ media”, October 12th) is invariably invoked by some – the poll is “biased” because the questions are not prefaced by their own Newspeak definitions of “abortion”, “fatal foetal abnormality”, etc. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 20.

A chara, – RTÉ longwave transmission (252kHz) is to cease from the end of October 2014. Large numbers of the Irish community in the UK will be affected by the switching off of this transmission waveband. This station plays a vital part in keeping the diaspora in touch with Irish news, music, culture and sport. The advertised alternatives are flawed. RTÉ FM and DAB broadcasts cannot be received in the UK. Internet transmissions are not nearly as practical as a radio that can be instantly switched on and is already tuned to RTÉ. Internet transmission cannot be listened to in a car. I understand RTÉ must move with the times and needs to invest in digital platforms; however there remain major restrictions with the technology. Currently the most effective way to reach the UK audience is via longwave – a proven service that has stood the test of time. – Is mise,


St Michael’s Irish Centre,

Ormskirk, Lancashire.

Sir, – Your online headline “Stunning and comprehensive 1-1 victory for Ireland in Germany” is a masterpiece.

Ireland has often snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but it takes genius to snatch victory from a draw. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – I was very pleased to note that on the day that Michael Noonan conceded a “double Irish” to Germany, John O’Shea reminded them that a single Irish can cause them even more bother! – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

A chara, – A new Ming dynasty in Roscommon? As long as the porcelain factories are not located in Knockcroghery, I suppose. – Is mise,


Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Will the new arrivals in the Dáil, Messrs Murphy and Fitzmaurice, be referred to affectionately by their colleagues in the lower house as the “water babies”? – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Looking at his new photograph, I thought you had fired Michael Harding and hired someone in his place (“Our Lady of the Telephone and the Palestinian poet”, October 14th). Michael, the new hairdo has changed you completely, but I am still a fan and so pleased and relieved it is still you. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 4.

Irish Independent:

The late Con Houlihan often referred to the question posed by Napoleon in assessing the future potential of his generals. “Is he lucky?” asked Napoleon.

If Con was alive today it is likely that the element of luck and Napoleon would have featured in his match analysis of Tuesday’s dramatic conclusion in Gelsenkirchen.

Martin O’Neill’s team has now rescued four points from their visits to Georgia and Germany, when the sum total of one point in Tiblisi appeared to be the likely outcome as the clock ticked over the 90th minute in both games.

This should give us a real hope that the winds of fortune are behind us, as luck appeared to have deserted our national team under the four managers (McCarthy, Kerr, Staunton and Trapattoni) who succeeded Jack Charlton.

Snatching a late draw in Gelsenkirchen recalls our first competitive game away from home under Jack Charlton in Brussels on September 10, 1986. We were trailing 2-1 in the final minute against Belgium, when Frank Stapleton was brought down by the goalkeeper in the penalty area. Up stepped Liam Brady – now an RTE analyst – to score the penalty and secure a 2-2. The team went on to qualify for Euro 88 and the Charlton era was up and running.

Frank Burke, Terenure, Dublin 6

Panel beaters should be positive

Last night, after watching Ireland’s amazing draw against Germany (1-1), I decided to listen to RTE 2 soccer experts Messers Giles, Dunphy and Brady to hear what I thought might be more positivity, especially after what Michael Noonan delivered in the Budget. Alas, I was so wrong. The negativity was so unbelievable I almost thought we had lost the game. I really feel that the panel were hoping for Ireland to get a drubbing so that they could continue the rant against manager after manager of the Irish soccer team.

Let’s face it, to draw against the current world champions Germany was an immense result for the nation’s soccer team. We all know that a vast amount of the current squad are playing Championship football in England. Our achievement in gaining a point – which, in my eyes, will be crucial at the end of the campaign – should be congratulated.

Tomas O Cochlain, Address with editor

No denying democratic tide

In his missive yesterday (Letters, October 14) Anthony Leavy downplays the significance of protests that are rising across the country these last few months. He dismisses the protesters as “just another group with vested interests” and laments actions taken a decade ago.

We have paid the price for some poor governance in the past, but that does not absolve others for their part in our financial struggle, namely those in the ECB and EU that threatened to ‘bankrupt Ireland’ if we did not rescue the banks (to the detriment of the citizens).

The rising tide of protest across the country is a merely a recognition of the fact that – despite the so-called ‘good news’ regarding deficit targets – the reality is that the number of homeless is at record levels, the number of suicides is up and hospital waiting lists have skyrocketed.

Those that have the courage to stand up and protest peacefully are an example to the whole country. It is the only way ordinary citizens will ever have their voice heard. The “vested interests” that Mr Leavy speaks of tend to whisper quietly in the corridors of power – they dare not show themselves on our streets. There is a democratic tide sweeping across the country. People have learned not to take our politicians at their word anymore.

Simon O’Connor, Crumlin, Dublin

More questions than answers

An epiphany. Today – not for the first time – I spent 15 minutes trying to get an answer to a simple question from a service provider.

I was directed round the houses by a series of automated messages until I eventually got to speak to a person. The person was lovely, but didn’t have a clue.

What I wondered was this – is the reason why these providers make such strenuous efforts to avoid letting us speak to a person is that they know that their people may not know what they are talking about?

Tom Farrell, Swords, Co Dublin

Budget 2015

Following the Budget, would Mr Spock say “it’s austerity Jim, but not as we know it?

John Williams, Clonmel, Co Tipperary

So you thought this was a giveaway Budget in order to win the next general election? Just wait till you see next years.

Mike Burke, Sixmilebridge, Co Clare

Change needed at Blackrock

We are writing in response to your article of October 10 (“Blackrock Appeal Over Pupils Policy”), in which you quote Shane Murphy, President of Blackrock College’s Past Pupils Union, as characterising the State’s intention to change the college’s admissions policy as “unjust”.

We have benefited from our education and experience in Blackrock College, its traditions and values, its ability to adapt to fresh challenges. The school taught us to have open enquiring minds.

We believe hereditary privilege should not be a deciding factor in access to such education. The proposed policy would increase the openness of our alma mater, strengthening its social inclusiveness, allowing it to produce students better able to meet a changing world in an even more constructive and critical manner. That’s a worthwhile aim.

Since Blackrock College receives substantial funds from the Exchequer, this move by the government seems quite just and – if anything – overdue.

Mr Murphy’s opinions do not represent those of all former pupils of our school.

Brendan Dempsey, Tom Duke, Robert Graham, Mark Leahy, Brian McGeeny, Addresses with editor

Time to remember our women

It is a sad fact that if Irish school students were asked to explain what Cumann na mBan meant, many would stare at each other in bewilderment.

It’s a poignant reality, but it’s the world we live in. Soap operas and psychedelic songs take precedence over how we as a country reached the stage of where we’re at today. Whose fault is it that large chunks of our history are deemed no longer important enough to put much emphasis on it in the class room?

There are many well-known members of Cumann na mBan like Maud Gonne MacBride and Countess Markievicz who did not shy away from armed action.

Markievicz is known to have shot an RIC man at St Stephen’s Green during the Easter Rising and, along with other Cumann na mBan members, subjected British forces to sniper fire.

This front-line action resulted in the deaths of many women volunteers, which has been overshadowed by the deaths of Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and other leaders who were executed as retribution for the rising.

An exhibition entitled ‘Women in Struggle’ will take place in Ostan Loch Altan, Gort an Choirce on November 1, starting at 4 pm. Well-known historian Helen Meehan (who is president of the Donegal Historical Society) from Mountcharles, and Mary Nelis, a former Derry City Councillor and civil rights campaigner and writer, will be among the various speakers in attendance.

James Woods, Gort an Choirce, Co Dun na nGall

Irish Independent


October 15, 2014

15 October 2014 Rain

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I go to the post office and the Co OP,books sweep the lawn.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down rabbit for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Park Honan – obituary

Park Honan was a scholar and biographer of great writers from William Shakespeare to Matthew Arnold

Park Honan: he was adept at sifting through sources to build a picture of the subject

Park Honan: he was adept at sifting through sources to build a picture of the subject

6:05PM BST 12 Oct 2014


Park Honan, the American-born scholar who has died aged 86, wrote scrupulously researched and often revelatory biographies of major writers across a range of periods; his subjects included Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Matthew Arnold.

He was a “man of letters” of a sort that is increasingly rare: he read widely, avoided “lit crit” jargon and addressed his books as much to the general reader as to the specialist. Honan passionately believed that a writer’s life, family, friends and social background could all shed light on the work. The squabbles over literary theory in British universities held no appeal for him, but he was far from being a stick-in-the-mud. He was a hugely adventurous scholar, whose works included, in 1987, an anthology of Beat poets (themselves highly experimental young men). He was devoted to teaching but had little interest in administration.

Moving to Britain in the late 1960s, Honan built a reputation as one of the leading scholars of Victorian literature . Then, as a professor at Leeds University, he reinvented himself as a Tudor historian, producing acclaimed biographies of Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.

He was a master at ferreting out detail from careful sifting of primary sources. He took between seven and 10 years to complete each biography, often writing all night while holding down academic jobs. Honan’s life of Matthew Arnold , published in 1981, established him as a serious literary biographer; it identified Mary Claude as the real woman with whom Arnold had been in love in Switzerland, the subject of his “Marguerite” poems.

Jane Austen: Her Life, which drew on previously unseen sources, came out in 1987; Kathryn Hughes in The Daily Telegraph wrote that it set “a daunting high-water mark”. Christopher Marlowe, Poet and Spy (2005), revealed for the first time that the gay playwright, unable to support himself through his writing, had become horribly tangled in obligations to his spymasters, which probably led to his murder aged 29.

Hobart Park Honan was born on September 17 1928, in Utica, New York, followed, 20 months later, by his brother William, later culture editor at the New York Times. Their parents were a thoracic surgeon, also called William, who died of a heart attack in 1935, and Annette Neudecker, a Southern belle who had been a school friend of Wallis Simpson. After her husband’s death, Annette rented a small house in Bronxville so that the boys could go to the excellent High School there. In 1946 Park left for Deep Springs, a tiny liberal arts college on a cattle ranch in the California desert, run by its 26 students plus a few teachers.

Park was fascinated by reptiles. “I adored rattlesnakes,” he recalled years later. “They sweetly and fairly warn you if you’re within 50ft of them – though when a horse drew to a quick stop once, I almost fell on a big rattler.”

He took on various jobs at the ranch, including that of garage mechanic, labour commissioner and slaughterer (the students had to slaughter their own meat). “My boots used to be awash in four inches of blood in the slaughterhouse. That helped to make me a pacifist.” After a day repairing the engines of Model A Fords in the garage, Park would read the works of Shakespeare, in the Variorum edition edited by the American scholar Horace Furness. This convinced him to read English instead of Law at the University of Chicago, where he went in 1948.

After graduating, he worked briefly at the Friendship Press in New York. One evening, Park’s brother introduced him to a French girl in a beret. It was Jeannette Colin – “a disturbing girl”, as Park put it. Their marriage in Manhattan in 1952 was a simple ceremony. “We stood for about half an hour in a queue of pregnant Puerto Rican ladies . Our music lasted 30 seconds. Someone lifted a needle from a scratched record, so that Here Comes the Bride stopped in mid-phrase; a clerk mumbled; we said: ‘I do’; and all was over in two minutes.”

Park Honan in the 1950s

Just as the Korean war was ending, Honan was drafted into the US army and, briefly, jailed as a conscientious objector. He spent a few hours in a cell with a forger, a Jehovah’s Witness and a man who had stabbed a postman. A judge agreed that he could serve as a stretcher bearer if needed and he was posted to France. Since under the GI Bill he qualified for a grant to complete his studies wherever he wanted, he decided to do his PhD on Browning at University College London (it was published as Browning’s Characters in 1961).

Returning to America he took teaching jobs, first at Connecticut College then at Brown University, Rhode Island. But when his friend the novelist David Lodge told him about a post as Lecturer at Birmingham University in the UK, Park jumped at the chance. He moved his family to Birmingham in 1968, staying there until 1983, when he was appointed Professor of English and American Literature at Leeds University.

It was at Birmingham that he produced his landmark study of Matthew Arnold and, before that, The Book, the Ring, and the Poet: A Biography of Robert Browning (1974). During the Leeds years, he completed perhaps his most ambitious work, Shakespeare: A Life (1988), which Stanley Wells, the leading British scholar of Shakespeare, considered the best biography in existence.

In his biographical technique, Honan was concerned to build a sense of immediacy or what he termed “presence”. He had a lifelong interest in drama and his work demonstrates a dramatist’s skill at bringing personalities to life. The scene in Christopher Marlowe in which the rakish young playwright is stabbed to death in a Deptford rooming-house is presented in vivid colours.

Among his other publications was Authors’ Lives: On Literary Biography and the Arts of Language (1990). He was one of the founders of the literary journal Novel. At the time of his death, he was half-way through a biography of T S Eliot.

Juliet Gardiner, Honan’s editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, described him as “persistent in his biographies and persistent in his friendships”. Park Honan and his wife had many friends and often entertained at their home in Leeds. Jeannette died in 2009. He is survived by their son and two daughters.

Park Honan, born September 17 1928, died September 27 2014


A male teacher writing on a blackboard ‘Parents are told good teachers mark books regularly, teach inspirational lessons, set homework, analyse pupil data to inform teaching and keep their knowledge up to date … A conservative estimate of doing a good job means spending 70 hours per week.’ Photograph: fStop/Alamy

The idea of a hit squad dispatched into so-called “failing schools” (Report, 13 October) should sound an alarm on a few counts. It signals the continuation of the use of force that engenders fear in urban schools, labelled not as challenging schools or, more pertinently, disadvantaged schools in local areas that usually rank high on the Index of Multiple Deprivation. It wages a propaganda war against teaching staff and multi-agency workers who are working extremely hard to try to combat exceptional social and educational inequalities in school communities that have suffered much from austerity policies. The charge of failure, code-named “inadequate” by Ofsted, is a political ploy to mask the effects in teachers’ classrooms of poverty and deprivation, which should be seen as mitigating circumstances when it comes to exam results, national benchmarks and floor targets.

This is a dangerous social experiment with these disadvantaged schools, overseen by the prime minister and led by authoritarian politicians like Michael Gove and now Nicky Morgan, who is seemingly content to carry on with a deliberate misrepresentation of the social realities of these frontline workers and subject them to intense policy pressures and sanctions, including job losses. More worrying, in the absence of adequate research-informed system support to meet pupils’ academic and social learning needs, is the power allocated to these politicians to shut down these schools, which are then cut adrift from the local authority and reopened as academies with corporate sponsors intent on profit-making and wealth creation. This then paves the way for global edu-businesses to come in and take over the nation’s state school system, which in turn raises serious questions about knowledge control and the control of teachers’ work, not to forget the fate of pupils from poor and deprived family and social backgrounds. The fallout from these vernacular forms of global neoliberal policies will echo down the 21st century, and as history has shown, there are dangerous precedents.
Professor Lori Beckett
The Winifred Mercier professor of teacher education, Leeds Beckett University

• I write as a retired headteacher who had thought that nothing that was proposed by this government could any longer surprise me. However, your front-page news about Cameron’s National Teaching Service has left me astounded by its complete lack of understanding of the ways in which children learn or should be encouraged to learn. In particular, the idea that the new service will introduce “standard punishments for bad behaviour”. No longer any need to treat children as individuals, then? Where are these “behaviour experts” to be recruited from, and if they are so special, why are they not already teaching?

When I was training to be a teacher, and while reading education for a degree, my studies included the writings of Rousseau, Piaget, Pavlov and such more recent icons as Denis Lawton. In other words, a knowledge of child development was considered to be an essential requirement for a teacher. No longer, it would seem.

Lastly, the “regional commissioners” will bring in new policies on “classroom discipline, uniform standards and homework”. I have no problem with the first of these, except that I have always believed that if a teacher can capture the imagination of children in class, behaviour will not be a problem. Perhaps my previous eight years as a policeman helped somewhat. Again, I have never been a fan of school uniform or homework; the best education relies, as ever, on the quality of teaching in the classroom. I have no doubt that I will be considered an idealist by many of your readers.

The type of school envisaged by Cameron is taking us ever backwards to a grey, standard Dotheboys Hall.
Harry Galbraith
Peel, Isle of Man

• As a teacher who retired after 38 years in the classroom, I have been giving some thought to Tristram Hunt’s idea of a “teaching oath” (Martin Rowson’s cartoon, 13 October; Stuart Heritage, G2, 14 October). May I suggest the following:

I swear always to do my best to raise the standard of education for all my pupils so they can achieve their fullest potential. In doing this I shall:
a) Campaign to bring the 3.5 million children out of poverty so that they may be able to focus on learning rather than worrying about their next meal or where they are going to live.
b) Refuse to implement any government policy which has not been rigorously piloted and found to raise educational achievement by independent researchers.
c) Not spend hours going to meetings or training sessions that do nothing to improve my performance as a teacher so that I may stand a chance of being awake, alert and teaching at my most inspirational throughout the day.
d) Care about the wellbeing of all in the school community so that together we can work for the benefit of all, but particularly the children.
e) Allow myself time to think about and develop my subject knowledge and reflect on my practice as a teacher so that I may continue to improve my skills.
f) Not live in fear of Ofsted nor performance-related pay, for they are sticks and carrots I do not need to be a good teacher, for I am happiest when I know my pupils are happy and learning.

I would like to think Mr Hunt would agree with me, but somehow I doubt it!
Richard Stainer
Bradfield St George, Suffolk

• I am old enough to have taught in primary and secondary modern schools in the West Riding in the 1950s. Children often came to school undernourished, and explanations of school absence such as “He’s got no shoes this week” were not uncommon. At least in those days we had an Educational Welfare Service, and shoes and clothing could be provided. I thought all that was long gone. Now I read Louise Tickle’s article (Food, clothes, transport, beds, ovens: the aid schools are giving UK pupils, 14 October). And yet we have the scandalous waste of money that is the free school programme, some of whose bizarre results are mentioned in the same edition (Speed read, 14 October). Do we still have an independent inspectorate? What do they look at?
John Thorley
Milnthorpe, Cumbria

• It is interesting to read about another “teaching guru”, Doug Lemov, tempting aspiring teachers to learn from his experiences (American who wrote the latest classroom bible, 13 October). On the same page is a half-page advertisement for people to train as maths teachers, with a “£25k tax-free” incentive.

Lemov appears to offer little to help stop the 40% of teachers who are currently leaving the profession in their first five years of teaching (costing taxpayers to train more to replace them). He does acknowledge that “teachers soldier on in anonymity, we never honour them”.

Why do so many teachers enter the profession, often with high aspirations of making a real difference, only to burn out within five years? Have public perceptions of what makes a good teacher been unrealistically painted by politicians, Ofsted, and the media?

Parents are told good teachers mark books regularly (weekly), teach inspirational lessons, set homework, analyse pupil data to inform teaching and keep their knowledge up to date. A secondary school history teacher might thus expect to spend over 20 hours marking books and giving feedback, 10 hours preparing lessons (including use of data), on top of a 40-hour week in school. This does not include meetings or parent consultations. A conservative estimate of doing a good job means spending 70 hours per week.

It’s a wonder it takes young teachers five years to realise there is more to life than appeasing Ofsted.
Jenny Page (retired maths teacher)
Newton Poppleford, Devon

Pro-Palestine supporter outside parliament in London Show of support for recognition of a Palestinian state outside the Houses of Parliament, 13 October 2014. Photograph: Luke Macgregor/Reuters

I watched the entire House of Commons debate on a motion to recognise a Palestinian state on Monday night, then read your report the next morning. It was as if your reporters were describing a different occasion. In just over 100 lines, you gave 38 lines to the admittedly significant change of heart by Conservative Richard Ottaway; five lines to the anti-recognition sentiments of Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind; 17 lines to the largely incoherent speech of an Israel supporter, Conservative MP James Clappison; and 21 to the rather measured words in support of the motion by Jack Straw. What was missing was any reference to the 40 or so passionate speeches by MPs of all parties condemning the decades of injustice, suffering and deaths imposed on the Palestinians by Israel, and calling for the British government to pressure Israel directly rather than make ineffectual statements of mild criticism from time to time. Although your paper presumably went to press before the vote, it was clear from the beginning of the debate that the House was overwhelmingly supportive of statehood for Palestine, and yet you hardly mentioned the arguments in favour, even those made by the proposer Grahame Morris, quoting one short phrase from his speech. As it was, the vote was an overwhelming 274 in favour of the motion and only 12 against, but no one would have guessed that outcome from your coverage of the debate.
Karl Sabbagh
Author, Palestine: A Personal History

• Will the House be equitable and propose a motion that those who support the concept of the Palestinian state recognise the existence and right to exist of the state of Israel?

No other UN member state has to continually argue its right to exist. So will the House demand the unequivocal recognition without further debate of Israel by other UN member states (specifically Arab states)? And will it condemn the terrorist organisation Hamas and promise that only when such organisations are removed from the Palestinian political landscape can Britain recognise the legitimacy of a Palestinian state?
Stephen Spencer Ryde

• Having lent credibility to the Palestinian terrorists, British MPs should now be ready to do the same for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, Sikhs in India, Kashmiris in Kashmir, Kurds in northern Iraq, Baluchis and Sindhis in Pakistan and so on.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

Tory MP Richard Ottaway nobly changes his opinion about Israel and admits that the Holocaust had had a “deep impact” on him after the second world war . He doesn’t mention the impact on Palestinian Arabs when Jews changed from victims to aggressors in 1948 and arrived with the armed terrorist group Irgun at their head to eject 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and into exile, where they or their descendants continue to fruitlessly wave their title deeds. It is precisely this kind of one-eyed amnesia from the west that continues to enrage even moderate Arab opinion and is a contributory factor to Middle East terrorism.
David Redshaw

• Patrick Wintour mentions a “carefully constructed Labour foreign policy towards Israel”. If he knows what this policy is perhaps he could enlighten your readers!
Doug Simpson
Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Conservative Party Conference Held In Birmingham - Day 3 Boris Johnson, who will be giving the opening keynote speech at the Mipim property fair in London, holds a house brick aloft as he addresses the Conservative party conference on 30 September 2014. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

This week the Mipim property fair is in London (Opinion, 14 October). A breeding ground for property developers, investment bankers, landlords and sellout politicians, Mipim represents the celebration of a housing system that puts concerns of profit over people’s right to a decent home. At a time when the UK housing crisis is causing homelessness, driving people out of social housing – such as the E15 mums – and forcing up rents for everyone, London mayor Boris Johnson will be giving Mipim’s opening keynote speech. We feel that no mayor of London should be attending this event and instead support the counter conference and mobilisation that has been organised to defend cities for people rather than profit. It is time to move away from treating houses purely as financial assets to be shuffled around for maximum gain and instead ensure that we provide affordable homes that meet people’s needs.
Jasmine Stone E15 Mums
Natalie Bennett Green party leader
Grahame MorrisMP Labour, Easington
John McDonnell MP Labour, Hayes & Harlington
Jeremy Corbyn MP Labour, Islington North
Cllr Rabina Khan Cabinet member for housing, London borough of Tower Hamlets
David Graeber London School of Economics
Darren Johnson Green party London Assembly member
Dave Wetzel Labour Land Campaign
Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty
Alistair Murray Housing Justice
Doug Thorpe Left Unity
Anna Minton Author, Ground Control
Rueben Taylor Radical Housing Network
Eileen Short Defend Council Housing
Pete Kavanagh Unite London and Eastern Region, regional secretary
Paul Kershaw Unite housing workers chair
Heather Kennedy Digs – Hackney Renters
Rachel Haines Southbank Centre Unite branch
Gerry Morrissey Bectu general secretary
Bella Hardwick Save Earls Court Supporters Club
Zaher Aarif Haringey Housing Action Group
Joseph Blake Squash Campaign
Liz Wyatt Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth
Christine Haigh Lambeth Renters
Liliana Dmitrovic People’s Republic of Southwark
Nic Lane Brent Housing Action
Alex Finnie Our West Hendon

• The picture painted by Aditya Chakrabortty is not one which people working to regenerate Britain’s cities and towns would recognise. For 25 years – and this week in the UK for the first time – Mipim has brought together public- and private-sector experts and contributed to the urban renaissance across the UK. The revival of towns and cities ranging from London boroughs to Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds is admired around the world, and Mipim is proud to have played a part. Far from lacking in transparency, Mipim welcomes open discussion on all topics, from affordable housing to urban development, from green building to the well-being of all city dwellers. No other forum is so effective as a meeting place for cities and towns, and the listed property companies and pension funds who, by working in partnership, set standards around the world. Perhaps that’s why visitors from Asia and the Americas’ biggest cities travel to Mipim – to learn best practice which they can then use at home. We look forward to Aditya Chakrabortty accepting an invitation to attend Mipim UK this week to see what really goes on.
Peter Rhodes
Reed Midem UK

• Zoe Williams , 13 October) takes up the important point of rich foreigners buying up swaths of property, particularly in London. We spend far too much time worrying about less well-off hard working people form foreign lands coming into our country, rather than rich ones buying property and not properly contributing to the economy. Non-EU people or companies should pay an annual land tax on any freehold or long leasehold property that they acquire. Property is in short supply in Britain and there is not enough for the world to buy here. The tax would be easy to administer, not require a valuation by the hard-pressed district valuer’s office and yield a contribution from people who can easily afford to contribute to the services of this country. Those from abroad who do not want to pay can free up property for us British people.
Neil Spurrier
Twickenham, Middlesex

Overpaid, oversexed (allegedly) and now overexposed in your newspaper. Bad enough to have to see Russell Brand’s witterings in Weekend (11 October), but he gets another airing this week (G2, 13 October). Stop it, please, his views are irrelevant and puerile.
Jane Ghosh

• Russell Brand is becoming as ubiquitous as Tracey Emin and Stephen Fry. Could we not have a moratorium on those dreary individuals?
JMY Simpson

• Les Bright, Paul Nicolson and Keith Flett (Letters, 14 October). Is the Guardian pursuing a core letter-writers strategy (Open door, 13 October)?
Jeremy Cushing

Letters pic The route to secession? Photograph: Gary Kempston

Danger of drawing borders

We Anglophile Europeans have difficulties persuading our compatriots that British people are not as insular as often depicted, but the Scottish referendum and your seven pages of coverage on it undermine our efforts with the glaring absence of a European perspective (26 September). I’m not referring to the compatibility of British arrangements with EU laws or an independent Scotland in the EU. The problem is much deeper: Europeans have been killing each other for generations on the question of borders, on the alleged right of “cultural nations” to have an independent state. After the second world war, things were sorted out in western Europe but not in the eastern bloc, where we have recently seen the results in ethnic cleansing and mass graves. By all means Britain must solve constitutional problems, but it mustn’t awaken the spectre of ethnic rearrangement.

The contention that democratic voting is always good is a naive bromide: in my Basque country the very suggestion of such a vote a few years back created social divisions whose scars are still being nursed. Basque nationalists have been drooling with envy for the Scottish referendum and though disappointed with the result still consider it a milestone on the route to secession.

There is such a thing as a European project, even if Britons cannot decide whether to join it, and drawing new frontier lines on the map certainly goes against it. European leaders ought to stop pretending these are internal matters: they engage the heart of Europe. After the lessons we thought we had learned from history, the sight of David Cameron, a western European leader, giving a veneer of respectability to tribalism, is appalling.
Anton Digon
Vitoria, Spain

• Alexandra Jones of research unit Centre for Cities argues that further devolution is “all about galvanising urban hubs” like those in Lancashire and Yorkshire (26 September). But what about the rural sector? On a visit to my ancestral homeland I was disconcerted to hear a Cornishman say he had just “taken a break in England”, which for him is a foreign land across the river Tamar.

Under English rule Cornwall has become one of the most deprived regions. Further devolution might be similarly attractive in parts of Wales, whose union goes right back to Edward I and a later Act of Union in 1535; and we have long known that in Ulster a significant minority wants out of the UK. The Scots may be leading all the Celts to recover their identities and autonomy in Timothy Garton Ash’s “federal kingdom of Britain” (26 September).
Ren Kempthorne
Nelson, New Zealand

• You noted the challenges of asymmetrical federalism (26 September). Canada has had just such a situation for years. Quebec, which has a relatively small share of the overall population, has control of their pension plan, their healthcare and their immigration strategy. It seems to work. Support for independence is the lowest it has been in years.
Jane McCall
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

• How do you describe a vote of 55% to 45%, with a percentage margin of 10 points? According to Irvine Welsh, the “yes” side came “within a whisker of victory”. But Alberto Nardelli writes that “Scotland’s answer was a resounding no … a decisive result … and in reality nearer to a landslide”. So who is right?
Stuart McKelvie
Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada

We need Human Rights Act

I am appalled and horrified by the Conservative plans for the European Convention on Human Rights (3 October). Their proposals are tantamount to saying that we will agree with the court’s judgment if we like it, if not, we will ignore it. That is no justice at all. I am equally appalled that the supposed justification is the decision to allow prisoners the right to vote. Even if you disagree with that specific ruling, the fact that a minority of our population, only 85,000, has caused the loss of fundamental rights for over 64 million people is fundamentally wrong.

These are rights which were drafted by British lawyers after the second world war, a time when it could not have been clearer that a continent wide agreement was necessary. The ECHR codified our human rights and fundamental freedoms to protect us all from the horrors that were perpetrated. Our soldiers fought and died to protect future generations from those appalling acts.

We would be complacent in the extreme if we did not think that such atrocities are behind us. Around the world in countries without such a convention, torture, police brutality, no right to a free and fair vote, education for boys and not girls, are commonplace. The Conservatives should not play politic with rights that were hard fought for us all. We should stand up now, as others did before us, to protect them.
Grace Cullen
London, UK

In a better world

Priyamvada Gopal’s piece on India’s Mars mission (3 October) notes that not only “in a better world the search for knowledge and the quest for social justice would be necessarily intertwined” but all nations would work together to achieve both goals, universally and collaboratively.

It is essential that we curb the ever more pervasive worship of privatisation, profit, competition, individualism and nationalism. All of these are solidly rooted in a culture of permanent war.

We urgently need to acknowledge that only by working together do we stand a chance to save our civilisation and maybe start to improve it.

In fact, if we do not resurrect community spirit, our dominion on earth will destroy all of us, and Margaret Thatcher’s quip that “there is no such a thing as society” will become a reality to the point that there will not be humanity.
Bruna Nota
Toronto, Canada

We are able to adapt

What a dreadful picture Paul Verhaeghe (3 October) paints of our put-upon, post-industrial selves, the hapless victims of a “meritocratic neoliberalism [which] favours certain personality traits and penalises others”, such as “emotional commitment” or “thinking independently”. In short, he says that our fiercely competitive economy is “bringing out the worst in us”.

Not only have the nice guys finished last, but the bad guys are certifiable psychopaths. What Verhaeghe does not seem to take into account, however, in his sweeping condemnation of the sheep we have all become, is that some of us are trying to adapt, using whatever emotional intelligence we have left. As one wise man once said, “Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to it.”

Now that is independent thinking, an option that Verhaeghe implies we no longer possess.
Richard Orlando
Westmount, Quebec, Canada

Celebrating Ursula K Le Guin

Hallelujah to Alison Flood’s celebration of Ursula K Le Guin (Elegant, popular and enduring, 26 September). I’ve been reading and rereading this remarkable woman with untrammelled delight for 40 years. There are so many gifts in her work: perfect pitch for language; endless curiosity and concomitant willingness to be wrong; humour; fine-honed, stellar imagination; the ecology – boundless, intricate, evolving – of her mythic universes, Earthsea and Hain; passion and compassion; a fierce commitment to justice and truth; and a grappling with fundamentalism, particularly patriarchy and war, in all its odium.

And like fireflies all through her work are the aphorisms: “When the word becomes not sword but shuttle” (Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences); “If power were trust …” (Tehanu); “They didn’t rule, they only blighted” (City of Illusions); “Belief is the wound that knowledge heals” (The Telling); “…because he didn’t seek for dominance, he was indomitable” (The Dispossessed); “the verb ‘to be rich’ is the same as the verb ‘to give’” (Always Coming Home).

It’s an honour to share a galaxy with her.
Annie March
West Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

New Zealand lurches to right

Bronwyn Sherman repeats the kind of tired political frame that actively helped John Key to keep power in last month’s New Zealand election (Reply, 3 October). The government’s apologists consistently miscast the message of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. These disturbingly well-informed specialists warned eloquently of the dangers of current massive government electronic snooping on New Zealand’s citizens.

So in a mixture of rightwing recasting of critical commentary and consciously ignoring major issues, they created a mood that carefully supports the rightward lurch of New Zealand politics over the last decade. The fact that it was foreigners bringing the bad news fed cheerfully into New Zealanders’ defensive rejection of outsiders, when we don’t want to hear the message.
David Cooke
Auckland, New Zealand


• You quote a Rome-based professor of theology: “the Catholic church doesn’t recognise divorce, so those individuals are still married … in the eyes of Christ” (3 October). True, if Christ were guided by the Catholic church rather than, as others might hope, the other way round.
Adrian Betham
London, UK

• Come back, Saddam: all is forgiven (Iraq air strikes, 3 October).
David Coy
Hamilton, New Zealand

Please send letters to


The letter by senior military and political leaders in Tuesday’s Independent drawing attention to our collective neglect of the problems in northern Nigeria is timely and welcome. Boko Haram is rightly and universally condemned for its savagery, and particularly for the truly shocking kidnap of 276 teenage schoolgirls six months ago.

However, before endorsing a military rescue of these poor children it is important to recognise the background in which these kidnappings took place. I recently briefly worked as an obstetrician for Médecins sans Frontières in northern Nigeria and was surprised to find that the average age that girls marry in that region is 15 years.

The local fundamentalist tradition is that girls are given in arranged marriages shortly after puberty, often against their will, to older men. The median age difference between girls and their spouses is 12 years. Sixteen per cent of the girls have given birth by 15 and almost 60 per cent by the age of 18.

Once married they may live in purdah. This involves the strict enforcement of seclusion rules. They are expected to remain indoors except in extreme circumstances, and when they do go out with their husband’s permission they must be completely covered by a hijab and escorted. Muslim Hausa women in northern Nigeria consider purdah and wearing the veil as important symbols of Islamic identity.

Removing 15-year-old girls from their family and marrying them off is therefore accepted as normal in this part of the world. Boko Haram’s kidnapping was therefore an enormously effective publicity stunt but was otherwise just an extreme and violent variant of what is commonplace and accepted there. Their view is that these girls should not be in schools receiving “evil western education” but should be married and bearing children.

Attempts to find the girls by military action might therefore be extremely difficult. Many of them may now already be in formal marital relations. There are many thousands of young women in this society who have been displaced from their families often against their will and have suffered similar if less violent fates to that being endured by their more famous kidnapped compatriots. Finding the kidnapped girls will be challenging, dangerous and possibly even counter-productive.

Professor Ray Garry MD FRCOG FRANZCOG
Guisborough, North Yorkshire

I strongly endorse the call for international action, including by Commonwealth governments, to support Nigeria against Boko Haram and seek the release  of the kidnapped girls.

In June the Commonwealth Local Government Forum board met in Abuja and pledged solidarity with our Nigerian colleagues. Local government is in the forefront in dealing with emergencies, whether terrorism, like the 2005 London bombings, or the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. Empowering local communities and ensuring they have the necessary on-the-ground capacity is therefore a vital component in defeating insurgents and mounting a rapid response to any emergency.

Carl Wright 
Commonwealth Local Government Forum,
London WC2


Of course we can afford the NHS

Congratulations on your excellent series of articles on the NHS. I am sick of the argument that we cannot afford a fully comprehensive health service, and that we are now a more “expensive” population because we are more numerous and have the temerity to live longer.

The NHS was created at a time when this country had never been poorer in modern times. In 1946, the population suffered from endemic diseases such as tuberculosis and polio, and contained the veterans of two world wars, mutilated in mind and body.

I remember the red blankets in a children’s isolation ward – red because when the tubercular patients coughed up blood, it was less frightening.

I remember the queues of miners waiting outside the “silicosis board”, where those with permanently damaged lungs waited to be assessed,

There were still wards full of shell-shocked soldiers hidden away from society, still streets with malnourished children suffering from rickets and head-lice.

Treatment for all this was paid for by a country practically on its knees at the end of the Second World War, bankrupted and exhausted, a population which had long forgotten personal luxuries.

We are a rich country now. Though we have a different set of health problems, of course we can afford to keep the NHS fully funded by taxing superfluous wealth. The Labour Party needs the guts to say so.

Jane Jakeman

As I stood outside Worthing hospital in the rain with the NHS staff picket on Monday morning I was struck by just how much support there was for this strike among the passing people of Worthing. Eight out of 10 passing cars beeped their horns in support.

It seems that the public share with the striking NHS staff the utter confusion over why incompetent politicians ruining the NHS through an unnecessary privatisation should get a 10 per cent pay rise while those saving lives don’t even get 1 per cent.

Dr Carl Walker
Worthing, West Sussex


Ukip joins the TV debate

So, having had an MP elected last week, Ukip has been promised inclusion in the leaders’ televised debates in next year’s general election; but no such promise has been made to the Green Party, which had its MP elected in May 2010.

Is this an example of what Tories claim is the BBC’s left-wing bias?

Pete Dorey

John Curtice (11 October) is wrong to state that “Ukip is undoubtedly taking votes from all parties.” The Green vote in both Clacton and Heywood and Middleton went up.

R F Stearn
Stowmarket, Suffolk

Coalition prevented a Tory government

Michael Ayton (letter, 11 October) posits an interesting but ultimately unconvincing counter-factual claim.

A minority Conservative administration in 2010 would not have endured for long. Within months the country would have faced a second general election, just as was the case in 1974. The result almost certainly would have been a majority Tory government. In the meantime, the vigilantes in the bond markets would have had a field day.

His argument also fails to take account of the consensus between the Conservatives and Labour on issues such as raising student fees. Under a minority Conservative government we would not have seen the compromises that have given us a graduate tax in all but name.

Those of us who remember the 1980s realise that the Coalition Government has been of a very different hue. Who, for example, would have thought that the overseas aid budget would have survived?

John Gossage
Coedcanlas, Pembrokeshire


Invaders from Europe

Thank you for underlining the dangers posed to us by the swarms of aliens invading our shores, many from Central Europe (“Alien species could cause an ‘environmental catastrophe’ ”, 13 October).

In your words, not mine, they are thieves and killers, they destroy our economy and, adding insult to injury, they smell. The photo you publish speaks volumes: reptilian eyes, lascivious lips, fangs, a moustachioed beast!

You describe how they are encamped across the Channel, poised to invade and transform our beloved Thames into a ghastly recreation of the Caspian! Gone for ever will be the days of old maids cycling past the rhododendrons to the pub for a pint of warm bitter and an unfiltered Players. No! It will be cheeky girls on mopeds with an e-cigarette in their pouting lips going to the discotheque for vodka!

Sean Nee

Worry over ‘psychic nights’

Simon Usborne’s article on Sally Morgan (11 October) resonated very deeply with a local concern on the estate where I live.

This relates to a series of “Psychic Nights” being promoted here by the local housing association. When I questioned the wisdom of this the official concerned seemed genuinely surprised.

As someone who values rational thinking I welcome the “psychic awareness month” that has been launched by the Good Thinking Society. With “new ageism” rife in the land we need all the help we can to retain clear thinking about spiritual matters.

The Rev Andrew McLuskey
Stanwell, Surrey

Why did the TV psychic Sally Morgan fail to foresee the homophobic behaviour of her husband and son-in-law (report, 14 October)?

Dr Alex May



Sir, As a non-executive director in a primary care trust a few years ago, it became abundantly clear that our 2 per cent budget deficit was nothing compared to the waste that an NHS reform would bring with it. We were just getting to grips with our task and making plans for our predominantly rural patch when structural reform was announced and we were discarded. Waste in the NHS does not stem from within; it stems from the here-today gone-tomorrow nature of the senior government role ascribed to the NHS: one of the biggest employers in the world flits from one personal aggrandisement project to another. The best change ever for the NHS at any one time would be to leave it as it is. Allow proper management to flourish, rather than change management.
Jonathan Duckworth
Nailsworth, Glos

Sir, The NHS is in yet another funding crisis, aggravated by uninformed political interference — and inevitable, too, as experience has shown that medical inflation is about three times that of general inflation. It is not realistic to continue with a comprehensive and free NHS that will bankrupt the country. The choice is between rationing the service or charging the patient, or a combination of these.
Julian Neely
Horsham, W Sussex

Sir, NHS reform is necessary. My disappointment is not with the government but with health service professionals whose response to proposals for change seems restricted to criticism of anything that threatens their vested interests.
John Nairn
Brookmans Park, Herts

Sir, Should we be puzzled to read that David Cameron and George Osborne failed to realise the extent of Andrew Lansley’s plans for reorganising the NHS (“NHS reforms our worst mistake, Tories admit”, Oct 13), when these plans were so huge that they were described by the chief executive of NHS England as “visible from space”? Both prime minister and chancellor need to distance themselves from the damage done to the NHS as the election nears. However, if this means claiming that they did not understand Mr Lansley’s plans, or did not spot what he was doing, they have to accept that they are not fit to govern.
Dr Jan Savage
London E1

Sir, At the moment when one is most likely to need the NHS, retirees such as myself become exempt from National Insurance contributions, part of which is a premium towards a health insurance policy. We need a fair system whereby older people support each other by helping to fund this wonderful service.
Neil Kobish
Barnet, Herts

Sir, Last Friday my wife was admitted to a hospital that is run under a PFI contract. I am an expert on PFI and it was clear that many aspects of facilities management were not being delivered to the standard I would have expected. Whoever is at fault for this — the contractors, administrators or both — the taxpayer is paying for a service they are not receiving.
Tony Clarke
Great Dunmow, Essex

Sir, Targets, intrusive inexpert management and the European working time directive have all contributed to a deterioration in seamless patient care and the training of junior hospital doctors.
Stuart L Stanton
Emeritus Professor of Gynaecology, University of London

Sir, How depressing to read the various versions of “I told you so” from members of the NHS workforce (letters, Oct 14). That such comments were also laced with complaints about pay and sniping at private provision is even more sad. Since elements of the workforce have opposed pretty well all changes to “their” NHS, there will probably be more such letters in future. To blame politicians is a lame excuse. To blame a shortage of money is just laziness. They need to be more creative and adaptive over ideas for change.
Peter Cobb
Tring, Herts

Sir, I was a non-executive director of the former Buckinghamshire Hospital Trust for eight years. Despite all our best efforts and training, I believe that neither myself nor other nonexecutive directors made any impact on decision-making. What we did do was absorb the time and energy of professionals who would have been better off running the hospitals. There are a lot of good things about the NHS and the dedication of staff is one of them. My suggestion is that to save money and move the organisation forwards, a new look at the governance structure is necessary.
Jane Bramwell
Rottingdean, E Sussex

Sir, It is worrying to read of the inconsistencies in care in hospitals (“The good, the bad and the ugly”, Oct 14). In the latest national cancer patient experience survey, 10 per cent of breast cancer patients reported that their doctors talked to them as if they were not there, and 12 per cent stated that their doctor did not deliver their diagnosis sensitively. For those living with secondary breast cancer, which cannot be cured, we know that inconsistencies in care are particularly distressing. We want the best breast cancer care and for secondary breast cancer to be a priority.
Diana Jupp
Director of Services and Campaigns, Breast Cancer Care

Sir, Of all the acknowledged truths about the NHS, that we are short of nurses must stand at the forefront. Training young people to nurse has to be good for society; not just filling nursing posts as at present, but knowing how to look after old and young in the community. It is an investment that will benefit us all.
Dr Alastair Lack
Coombe Bissett, Wilts

Sir, Why should we celebrate the fact that the “NHS is treating more patients than ever before”? (“Protecting the NHS”, leading article, Oct 13). Shouldn’t we wish for fewer patients?
Nicholas Norwell
Newbury, Berks

Sir, Mention of Balfron Tower (letter, Oct 14) reminds me of the importance of these high-rise homes to people in the Fifties. My sister was doing her teacher-training in an East End school and one little girl gave her “news” to the class a day after being moved from substandard accommodation. She said: “We have a lavatory — in a bathroom — which is just for us; me and my mum and dad. And I go to bed in a room which is mine, just for me, and I looked out of the window and all I could see was fairyland.”
Patricia White

Sir, Despite the doubts that ebola will enter the country via an airport, by installing screening the government seems determined to reassure the public that something is being done. Surely it is more likely that an ebola carrier will enter this country illegally in the back of a lorry? During their journey, illegal migrants can suffer horrendous sanitary conditions. They are often placed in crowded vehicles or boats for long periods of time. The nature of their journey and the travel times all point to this being the most likely vector of entry for this virus. Having arrived here in such a manner, it has to be assumed that few would come forward until their symptoms were advanced. While the NHS may be gearing up to prevent an outbreak, a practical approach has to be taken to protect police officers, border agency and immigration staff. Surely Cobra will have considered how to reinforce our porous borders, or is the Ukip bandwagon preventing sensible discussion of the matter?
F Donnelly
Stoke Poges, Bucks

Sir, Is it too much to hope that those who could make a difference to the planet’s response to ebola — Obama? Xi Jinping? — show world leadership before matters get out of hand?
Lars Mouritzen
London W2

Sir, I do hope that the plans of the health secretary Jeremy Hunt to prevent ebola from entering Britain are comforting for the nation, in view of his botched security job at the Olympics when he was sport minister.
Terry Duncan
Bridlington, E Yorks

Sir, This may help Rob Matthews (letter, Oct 10): a management consultant is someone who knows how to make love in 120 exciting, spectacular and exotic ways, but does not know any women.
David Himsworth
Filey, N Yorks

Sir, I thought a management consultant was someone to whom you lent your watch so as to enable them to tell you the time.
Tony Westhead
Amersham, Bucks

Sir, The votes here and in Sweden to recognise a Palestinian state are terrifying (“Labour backs call to recognise Palestine”, Oct 14). The Hamas charter is expressly a programme for the destruction of Israel and Jews. Hamas is not a political party seeking a two-state solution and it never has been.
Robert Willer
London EC1

Sir, It seems that a marginal majority of UK MPs (most did not turn up to the vote) support the Palestinian propaganda narrative. How little these MPs understand the Israeli mind. Far from influencing the Israeli government, this will make the Israelis listen less to the British.
Harold Miller
London NW7

Sir, The claim that Palestinian Arabs were the original inhabitants of what is now Israel is not, as Melanie Phillips writes, “historically illiterate” (“Recognising Palestine won’t promote peace”, Oct 13). Thanks to the work of the Israeli historian Benny Morris we can be clear how many of these inhabitants left their land following the 1948 war.
James Davis
London SW15


All the leaves are brown: a cobweb in the early morning mist in Richmond Park, London Photo: Getty Images

6:57AM BST 14 Oct 2014


SIR – The best use for conkers is to place them around the house to deter spiders. As a lifelong arachnophobe, I recommend it.

Liz Howgill
Epsom, Surrey

SIR – I find bowls of conkers make good decorations. But does anyone know how to make them keep their rich, coppery glow instead of turning a dull, dark brown?

Jean Endersby
Guiseley, West Yorkshire

SIR – It is the time of year when we will read letters from those who want to keep British Summer Time permanently. May I beg them to think twice before sending them?

It would lead to mornings where fog and frost caused traffic chaos, and children in parts of the country went to school in the dark. It would be bad for business, the economy and all local services.

Let common sense prevail.

David Barlow
Cury, Cornwall

SIR – My wife, an American citizen, was denied re-entry into Britain recently because I, a UK citizen, had the temerity to ask if it would be possible for her to remain with me for the duration of my stay in Britain. This was interpreted as an attempt to obtain entrance to Britain without having the necessary pre-clearance. She was denied entry, despite being given a six-month entry permit earlier in the summer.

Contradictory advice, inability to get help from British diplomatic posts overseas and confusing terminology on the Government’s website contributed to this debacle. Were I a citizen of any other country in the European Economic Area, I would have the right to bring my wife into the country, regardless of her nationality, and she would then be able to obtain residence rights quickly and easily.

Why do UK citizens have fewer rights to bring their non-EU spouses into Britain than citizens of other EU states?

Jonathan Warner
Squamish, British Columbia, Canada

SIR – Glory, glory, Boris Johnson! He has finally listened to and understood what Ukip is saying about immigration.

Maybe he will bring his wisdom to bear on the other issues on which “kippers” are speaking with honesty and conviction.

Linda Hughes
Newton Abbot, Devon

SIR – Boris Johnson “calls for quotas on EU migrants”. Is he referring to the 1.75 million British citizens who live and work in the EU but outside Britain? Should they too be subjected to a points and quota system by their host nations?

Freedom of movement works in two directions, and so do restrictions on it.

Emeritus Prof Nicholas Boyle
Magdalene College, Cambridge

Celebrity reputations

SIR – I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan Hawkins. Naming alleged perpetrators, without formal charges being brought, must cause the individuals concerned potentially irreparable damage to their characters and reputations, without recourse.

If the Crown Prosecution Service believes it has sufficient evidence to prosecute, it should proceed to a trial. Other victims are more likely to come forward following a conviction, rather than unproven allegations.

If victims are, quite rightly, given anonymity pending trial, then the accused should be afforded the same courtesy.

Ian Melville

Subsidised wind power

SIR – The fortunate landowner Robin Hanbury-Tenison can only enjoy the fruits of his £60,000 investment in wind energy thanks to my 91-year-old mother (and millions like her) getting by on a pension and paying him ridiculous subsidies through utility bills for the energy he generates, which may not even be available when the grid needs it.

Ian Goddard
Wickham, Hampshire

Expiring underpants

SIR – After more than 40 years in general practice I can confidently assert that the spectacle of the typical Englishman in his underwear is little short of tragic. Retailers should put a use-by date in their products.

Incidentally, although I live in Norfolk, I do not wear Y-fronts.

Dr David Bryce

Ebola: can we avoid an outbreak in Britain? Photo: Rex Features

6:59AM BST 14 Oct 2014


SIR – I am writing from a London teaching hospital where there are no signs in the A&E waiting room advising anyone presenting with a history of travel to west Africa to make themselves known to staff, or better yet to go home and call a helpline. In fact, nobody has yet seen fit to instigate such a helpline or home assessment by specialist teams.

A virus that could burn itself out in Africa would have no chance to do so in London because of the population density. An outbreak (and subsequent imposition of martial law) in London would cost hundreds of billions of pounds, but the cost of basic measures just millions.

Dr Alexander Barber
Camberley, Surrey

SIR – The Department of Health’s over-reaction to bird flu and the subsequent money wasted on Tamiflu should not make us complacent about Ebola.

Its arrival in Britain is almost certain, but not necessarily from west Africa. The worst outcome would be a significant outbreak in rural areas of Eastern Europe that have little epidemiological experience and a migrant workforce.

Dr Robert J Leeming
Balsall Common, Warwickshire

Short man syndrome

SIR – The suggestion by Boris Johnson that Sir Winston Churchill was afflicted with “short man syndrome” is preposterous. Churchill, at 5ft 8in, was at least two inches taller than the average British male of his generation.

Hitler was also taller than average and it is doubtful if his madness was induced by lack of inches.

Every tyrant of short statute can be paired with a tall one, such as Edward II, the Hammer of the Scots, or Henry VIII, both of whom stood well over 6ft.

Alexander Johnston
Syston, Leicestershire

Chewed-up roads

SIR – I am currently witnessing the failure of an attempted repair that was made with some form of instant tarmacadam porridge less than two months ago.

I also recently observed a gang of operatives endeavouring, and largely failing, to remove chewing gum from the pavement.

Why do they not repair the holes in the roads with used chewing gum?

Tom Richardson
Colchester, Essex

War on Terror: organisation and equipment issues must be addressed Photo: REX

11:29AM BST 14 Oct 2014


SIR – The former chief of defence staff bemoans the drastic pruning of Britain’s Armed Forces in the face of current threats, but the problem is as much about organisation and equipment as it is about numbers.

Giant aircraft carriers and sophisticated Typhoon fighters are not much use against religious fanatics and terrorist organisations. Using an expensive smart missile to take out a pick-up truck sporting a mounted machine gun seems neither proportionate nor cost-effective.

The Israelis discovered in Gaza that a massive air assault may be technically impressive but it is largely ineffective against flexible and ruthless terrorists and risks many innocent lives, as well as outraging public opinion.

We have a wealth of experience of counter-insurgency operations, and the answer has always been a combination of intelligence gathering, extensive investment in winning hearts and minds, appropriate air support and, yes, boots on the ground in sufficient numbers and for sufficient time to both achieve and sustain the desired outcome.

The same principles apply now, albeit in the context of an international coalition and the need for the whole-hearted co-operation and commitment of the host country.

Air Commodore Mike Davison (Retd)
Holywell, Huntingdonshire

SIR – I question the value of teaching a few Iraqis how to use a relatively small number of heavy machine guns in Iraq by a few British soldiers, for a short time with no “mission creep”. A politically better solution with fewer costs, and probably better training, could be given by flying a few specially selected Iraqis to Britain and training them here. They could then pass on their knowledge to their compatriots in Iraq.

On a similar subject, I wonder who accepted the task of training cadets in Afghanistan along the lines of Sandhurst. Of course we could accept only a few of the required cadets in Sandhurst to train them here, as we do now I believe, but a Sandhurst in Afghanistan will undoubtedly become an attractive target and I fear that we will suffer casualties no matter what security we put in place. We will probably have to withdraw without completing the task of providing an organisation to train Afghan officer cadets, and I only hope that we will do so before too many of our soldiers are killed or injured.

It would be interesting to know what military advice was given to the politicians, and whether any such advice was overruled.

Brigadier Philip Winchcombe (Retd)
St Mary Bourne, Hampshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – In 2005 Prof James Slevin, then president of the Royal Irish Academy, and I submitted an opinion piece to The Irish Times about the deteriorating state of Irish undergraduate education. The article was never published, but its opening sentence “Ireland’s third-level system is like a slowly sinking ship” continues to be as true today as it was then.

In real terms, core funding per student is today a small fraction of what it was when Niamh Bhreathnach abolished third-level fees in 1995.

According to a recent report by Grant Thornton, the core grant per student in third level fell by over 40 per cent in the period 2007 to 2011 alone. But long before the collapse of the Celtic Tiger the cynicism with which successive governments treated the third-level sector in general, and the universities in particular, was deeply depressing.

The recession only made things worse. The core grant has been cut and cut; student numbers have been driven ever upwards; the reintroduction of fees continues to be verboten.

The Higher Education Authority plays a game of beggar my neighbour – incentivising each university to take on more students at the expense of its peers. The request, last year, that universities take on an additional 1,250 ICT undergraduates is typical.

Universities were “invited” to bid for extra students and told that they would get €1,000 per student; only later did they find out that this money would come from the core grant – ie it would be taken from other disciplines and/or universities – yet again robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Universities have responded to this funding crisis in a variety of ways. They have raised the so-called “registration fee” as far as the Government will permit them. And they have turned to other sources of income, notably research grants, philanthropy, non-EU students and commercial activities with, it must be said, some success, particularly in the research arena. But such sources of funding do not necessarily do much to improve the lot of the undergraduate. Research bodies pay academics to do research, not third-level teaching, and philanthropists typically donate to specific projects (like a professorship or building) rather than contributing to day-to-day running costs or teaching.

The result, as any honest academic will tell you, is that undergraduate teaching receives less and less attention. Promotion is achieved through research and the ability to bring in money; third-level teaching (along with its associated administration) is a distraction.

Young academics are smart people; they can see how this particular game is played. In the circumstances it is remarkable that Irish universities have managed to sustain the rankings that they have. The slide of UCD down the rankings may have grabbed the headlines, but given the chronic deterioration in its financial situation, the sector as a whole has held up remarkably well.

Universities are not like hospitals; when funds are cut, nobody is at risk of dying; nobody will have to wait for years in pain or discomfort for an elective procedure.

But just as failure to invest in primary health care leads to much larger bills down to the road, so the failure to maintain the quality of our third-level system will cost us in the end. It is hardly a surprise that employers increasingly complain about the deteriorating quality of our graduates.

University funding has been the victim of political cowardice for a generation; it is time for a change of direction. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – The Government has taken our last slice of bread (property tax, water tax, pension fund theft) yet we rejoice when it drops a few crumbs back onto our plates. What sad drones we have become. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Charge double and then offer half off. – Yours, etc,


Westport, Co Mayo.

Sir, – Now that the troika is but a distant memory, may I ask if it is a coincidence that budget day coincided with “Global Handwashing Day”? – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The allegation by the Pro Life Campaign that media outlets are “extremely biased” on the issue of abortion appears to have been given some credence within a matter of hours of the claim being made (“Pro Life Campaign criticises ‘extremely biased’ media”, October 12th). The Ipsos/MRBI poll (“Majority of voters want abortion law liberalised”, October 13th) asked respondents whether they agreed that abortion should be permissible in situations “where the foetus will not be born alive”.

An answer in the affirmative to such a question might seem uncontroversial to many people, however the fact is that in medical terms the number of babies who “will not be born alive” and who cannot survive outside the womb for any period of time, as a percentage of all those diagnosed with serious foetal abnormalities, is tiny in number.

The matter is further complicated by the fact that it is very difficult for medical professionals to assess the likelihood of survival outside the womb in the first instance. Doctors simply cannot assess whether or not a child “will not be born alive”, so therefore it will be impossible to frame a constitutional amendment or legislation which covers such an eventuality.

The vast majority of babies diagnosed with abnormalities in the womb are born alive, even if they live for only a short time. Even in cases of anencephaly, probably the most serious abnormality which can occur in the womb, 75 per cent of children diagnosed are born alive and many will live for a number of weeks.

If these facts were put to respondents for your opinion poll, it is not unreasonable to suggest that there would have been a substantial reduction in the numbers who would support abortion in such circumstances.

Why was such a misleading question put to voters in an opinion poll in the first place? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – I read with interest David McConnell’s letter (October 13th) and found myself in agreement with his sentiments. I too was brought up in a church-attending Christian family environment.

I have continued to practice my faith for most of my life to date but at this stage in my early seventies, I am finding it more difficult to continue to accept core Christian beliefs. The element of supernaturalism is chief amongst my doubts. I am at present only an occasional church attender but, like Prof McConnell, continue to enjoy the opportunity to reflect, the beauty of singing and the words of powerful oratory at times.

My strongest belief is that we were all born with a conscience and the exercising of this to do good rather than evil is the key to a fulfilled life. There is room for both religion and humanism in our world and followers of each should encourage respect. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Further to recent correspondence (October 14th) on the question of aid or trade, there is no argument but that trade is essential to improve the lives of the world’s poorest citizens. Almost all evidence suggests smart aid and fairer trade policies will help improve quality of life for the world’s most disadvantaged.

But in the short term, improved trading policies or even large yearly economic growth will not immediately help the most vulnerable. Trade will not educate a Syrian child spending her third year in a Lebanese refugee camp. Nor will it stop the chain of transmission of HIV from a HIV-positive pregnant woman to her baby in Malawi. Aid, or specifically emergency education and the provision of antiretroviral drugs, will. Fairer trade policies are essential but they won’t improve and save lives immediately as aid will. This combination of smart aid and more equitable trade policies will make the world safer, healthier and more prosperous for us all. – Yours, etc,



Sierra Leone.

Sir, – The old mantra of “trade not aid” may hold true for Owen Brooks (October 14th), but for most, these are not strictly separate entities. If Mr Brooks were to investigate where overseas aid is spent, he would see that a sizeable portion of Ireland’s overseas aid is spent on small-scale economic projects, helped by Irish NGOs with funding from the Irish government. He is right that countries in the global south will only be able to work themselves out of economic hardship, which is the ultimate goal of projects like these, but for this to be possible, access to funding, credit or microfinance is required. Mr Brooks may argue that trade can solve this in one fell swoop, but it is clear that this does nothing but benefit the developed countries with whom they trade at an exponentially greater rate, and thus increase the relative wealth gap between richer and poorer countries. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – I have been listening very keenly to the Government since the dramatic reshuffle in the Labour Party to identify any change in direction on issues that are causing the electorate grave concern.

As a member of the Labour party in Dublin South West, and having been a TD in 1992 and a councillor for 18 years, I consider the result of the byelection in Dublin South West a disaster for the party, simply because we are not listening to the people, especially those who supported the party down through the years.

Dublin South West is the most left-wing constituency in the country and the party has come down from 33.92 per cent in 1992 general election to 8.5 per cent in the byelection.

It is self-evident from the result that the changes in Government have not had the desired effect and the people have come to the end of their forbearance with the imposition of water charges, which is the straw that has broken the camel’s back – no matter what allowances are given, it will not be enough to buy the people’s vote. Nothing less than a complete rethink will satisfy the public. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 12.

Sir, – Water charges, property taxes, pylons, gas pipelines, wind farms, incinerators, draining the Shannon – whatever gets proposed to deal with problems, we seem to be able to muster up a vocal cohort capable of claiming that every plan is an affront to our human rights, or a threat to our very existence.

Are we becoming a nation of hysterics, cheered on in our irrational stubbornness by grandstanding politicians and a sensationalist media?

The logical outcome is 200 TDs who are against pretty much everything and incapable of achieving anything. What a great centenary election 2016 will provide!

A centenary anniversary of the Rising of a nation?

More like a petulant 10-year-old having a sitdown protest because he was refused ice cream. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – I have no objection in principle to paying separately for the water that I use. It makes sense in terms of broadening the tax base and in terms of conserving a vital commodity. But since we are already paying for the provision of water from general taxation, where is the consequential and corresponding reduction in general taxes that should make up for us having to pay this charge?

Indeed, as the citizens of this country will be forced for the first time to conserve water, the saving from general taxation should surely be greater than the new water charge. Why are we not being promised by the Government that we will be in fact be better off by a saving in income tax or some other tax? Could it be that there will in fact be no saving from general taxation for the citizen? Could it be that we will now be paying for water on the double and that this is just a tax on top of an existing tax?

No wonder the people have roared! – Yours, etc,


Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

Sir, – Water is the new oil. Mega-banks such as Goldman Sachs, CitiGroup and JP Morgan are buying up water resources, engineering infrastructure and water rights worldwide. They know that, as water becomes more scarce with climate change and population growth, there are vast profits to be made. In addition, the lucrative potential of “big data” means that Irish Water, as an asset, is far more valuable with PPS numbers attached than without. Not just water, but our very identities are being commercialised without our consent.

The privatisation of water transgresses all notions of natural justice and threatens ordinary citizens with withdrawal of a life-giving resource that nobody should ever have to live in fear of losing. Privatisation of public services has repeatedly been shown to have disastrous consequences, in terms of quality of service, workers’ rights and value for money.

Any country where access to the basic prerequisites of life can only be guaranteed to the wealthy is a failed society. We elect our politicians to run the country on our behalf, to distribute resources and to ensure a minimum acceptable standard of living for all citizens. In the perennial battle between ordinary citizens and the profit-seeking corporations that seek to dominate and exploit us, we pay our politicians so we can be sure they are on our side? Are they? – Yours, etc,


Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – On the subject of school admission policies favouring the children of alumni, the debate so far has been lacking a basic degree of perspective.

First, let us discard the notion that this is a practice exclusive to fee-paying schools: a quick scan of most school admission policies reveals it to be commonplace.

Second, there is a common misconception that these schools are wall-to-wall with children of past pupils, while other prospective students find it impossible to gain admission. This is simply not the case. Taking an example from our English neighbours, even at Eton – where this kind of policy is at the very core of the school’s ethos – children of past pupils make up only approximately 25 per cent of the student base, according to figures published in the Guardian.

Without expressing an opinion either way, I do hope the debate going forward can be sensible and avoid any further stereotyping or sensationalism. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Further to recent correspondence, the safety of those at sea is critically dependant on the availability of reliable weather forecasts – such as those produced by Met Éireann and broadcast by RTÉ Radio 1. There are over 1,100 boats in the Irish fishing fleet under 8 metres in length. There are many small leisure boats. For various practical reasons, most small boats do not carry marine-VHF equipment to receive broadcasts from the Irish Coast Guard and thus depend on the sea area forecasts broadcast by RTÉ Radio 1 that may be received on a low-cost, portable “transistor radio”.

VHF-FM radio has a limited broadcast range at sea and may be hindered by cliffs and mountains. Longwave transmissions reach many miles out to sea, regardless of time of day or radio conditions.

The planned cessation of RTÉ Radio 1 broadcasts on the longwave radio band will result in the loss of a clear radio signal at sea all around Ireland with consequent loss of access to Met Éireann’s sea area forecasts that are produced every six hours.

Maritime safety will be put at risk unless RTÉ Radio 1 fulfils its “public service broadcasting” remit by continuing to broadcast on longwave. – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.

Sir, – Every civilised country in Europe seems to broadcast on longwave.

How much is saved by closing it down? Probably not as much as one of the radio stars gets in a year.

What is RTÉ up to? Not waving but drowning. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 8.

Sir, – As a member of the over-50 club, I identified with Rosita Boland’s article on this cohort of society in Saturday’s Irish Times. Am I right in thinking that an extra zero appeared erroneously in the salary earned by Noel Storey – £3,500 a year – as a messenger boy in the early 1970s (“I smoked a lot of hash, so my adolescence was quite hazy”, Weekend, October 11th)? If not a typo, I am either very envious or extremely depressed. My starting salary in 1976 was £1,000! – Yours, etc,


Howth, Dublin 13.

We are happy to confirm that Mr Storey’s recollection was reported accurately.

Irish Independent:

The Budget is the most curious piece of political theatre in the annual calendar.

Nothing else better symbolises the delusion and disconnect that characterises our democratic champions in government.

This year it takes on the significance of the phoenix, as our masters seek to seize the opportunity to rise from the economic cinders after seven years of hardship, hair-shirts, and harbingers of doom.

Well, good luck with that. Do they seriously expect us to clap them on the back and return them to office for taking less of what we already own from us; or else be eternally gratefully for allowing us to keep more of what is already ours?

The Budget has become the yardstick by which we have come to measure political performance.

That is well and good if we accept the dystopian notion that we are now an economy rather than a society. So, forget the human cost of emigration and long-term unemployment; the tax loopholes and the princelings too wealthy to have to pay their share thanks to all the State mechanisms of privilege.

Nor does it allow for the fact that Brussels has continued to view us as a minnow to be swallowed in the belly of the banking beast. Sure we took one for Team Europe, but don’t expect to get any relief on debt from Frau Merkel or even a nibble on any of the carrots dangled before us in order to secure our best-in-the-class certificates.

It has taken tens of thousands of marchers down the capital’s main thoroughfare to signal that you can’t actually fool all the people all of the time.

It is time for our leaders to leave their political bubble and get a sense of humility. Hubris demands a heavy price, a lesson Enda Kenny will have learned at the expense of John McNulty. But in the ever-spinning carousel of life, what goes around comes around.

T G Gavin, Killiney, Co Dublin

Church synod deserves praise

Mike Mahon asks if anyone finds it odd that “celibate men” are meeting to discuss family life (Irish Independent Letters, October 12) at the Vatican synod. Firstly, he therefore assumes family life is primarily about sex, otherwise celibacy is a non-issue. Priests listen to the trials and tribulations of married life in the confessional. All priests have families of their own – the ones they grew up in. Priests may have had partners prior to taking vows of celibacy. They surely have some insight into family life.

Secondly, as for the synod, one of the functions of the Church is to disseminate Catholic doctrine to Catholics. The synod is trying to ascertain why this does not seem to be happening and what can be done to make this happen. This does not necessarily mean the doctrine will change, but is to rather discuss how its importance to family life can be better communicated. There is nothing “odd” about a convocation of clergy whose job it is to discuss this.

Finally, he adds a little jibe about “men wearing skirts in public”. This is a rather tired old mantra by men who apparently can’t distinguish between a skirt, dress or cassock. If Mr Mahon asks any woman or priest I’m sure they’ll be happy to explain the difference to him.

Nick Folley, Carrigaline, Co Cork

Bono a force for good

Reading Colette Browne’s article about Bono (Irish Independent, October 13) brought the saying to mind “chewed bread is easily forgotten”. Instead of criticising Bono, we should be thankful to him and U2. Thankful for putting Ireland on the map, not just musically.

They have played many concerts here over the years and made videos in Ireland – all this led to many people getting employment as stage crews, security, food stalls and ticket sellers. Not to mention extra shifts for our gardai, extra tourists and all the tax returns that generated.

An article extolling Bono’s virtues might serve us better. We live in hope.

Seamus Keaveny, Kells, Co Meath

In defence of public servants

I have been reading with interest the various letters to the Editor concerning the pension levy as well as Martina Devlin’s excellent article (Irish Independent, October 9).

I found Marc Coleman’s contribution more caustic, especially his reference to public sector princelings. I have no doubt these princelings exist, but many retired public servants do not fit into this elite category. Are the public even aware that retired public sector workers have been paying this levy since its introduction in 2011?

I am a retired primary teacher whose  annual levy totals €2,471.30.

My total pension is less than the salary increase awarded to TDs who were elevated to the position of junior ministers.

Name and address with editor

Protest movement is not new

Dermot Ryan proclaims “a new dawn in our politics” because “thousands marched on Dublin” and “two Independent candidates” were elected to the Dail (Letters, Irish Independent, October 14). Does he not realise that those occurrences are the normal part of life in a democracy?

Does he not realise that the “loud howlings” he hears are those of various vested interests giving vent to their feelings of entitlement?

Does he not realise that the loud howlings of the marchers – for which he so enthusiastically proclaims support – are those of just another group with vested interests?

Does he not realise that it was decisions of our most powerful citizens, and not what he calls “the whims of foreigners”, which contributed to the bankrupting of this country?

There is no new dawn, just a continuation of the workings of a democracy.

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13

Putin is our cross to bear

I see Vladimir Putin, Russia’s presidential “New Age Tzar”, is pictured wearing a crucifix while riding a horse. Putin’s decision to wear a crucifix must be a tawdry fashion-statement.

This is because while Putin (like so many a celeb-set crucifix wearer) may think he can “walk on water” there was/is only one Man who ever did (and still can)!

And after what’s happened in Crimea, the Ukraine generally and the shooting down of MH-17 (not to mention the current threats to Hong Kong’s stability) Western apologists should never forget that Putin is ex-KGB! And that’s not “Kind Gentle Brothers”, as many former Soviets used to claim!

Howard Hutchins, Victoria, Australia

The conundrum of petrol prices

Petrol pump prices in Ireland are not far off their all-time high mark.

This coincides with a near four-year low in crude oil prices. Can anyone, petrol retailer or otherwise please explain this anomaly?

Dr Martin Ryan, Rathgar, Dublin 6

When the chips are down…

For some strange reason, the story about the man in New Mexico suing Burger King because the manager attacked him in a dispute over cold onion rings brought a tear to my eye.

Tom Gilsenan, Beaumont, Dublin 9


October 14, 2014

14 October 2014 Clinic

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I take Mary to the clinic long day., Mary has he first injection

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Sir Jocelyn Stevens – obituary

Sir Jocelyn Stevens was an irascible publisher, newspaperman and heritage supremo who delighted in hiring and firing

Sir Jocelyn Stevens surveys the site of the Rose Theatre in Southwark in 1998

Sir Jocelyn Stevens surveys the site of the Rose Theatre in Southwark in 1998 Photo: Stephen Lock

12:01PM BST 13 Oct 2014


Sir Jocelyn Stevens, who has died aged 82, forged a formidable reputation for himself as a saviour of ailing institutions, first in the newspaper industry and later as head, successively, of the Royal College of Art and English Heritage.

Stevens was at his best in a crisis, for his style of management was based less on his intellect than on the overpowering force of his personality. He carried with him an air of impatience and, though capable of great charm, he did not shy from ruthless, even brutal, behaviour where necessary. Private Eye christened him “Piranha Teeth”.

Indeed, at times there appeared to be no form of exercise that gave him greater pleasure than taking an axe to those he perceived as dead wood. Stevens was, par excellence, a sacker — he once dismissed 11 professors from the RCA in an afternoon — and there clustered about him a fund of oft-repeated stories about his towering rages.

Such was his reputation for belligerent cost-cutting that when he was appointed chairman of English Heritage in 1992, one commentator described it as “like putting Herod in charge of childcare”. It was an image in which, in public at least, Stevens revelled.

Sir Jocelyn Stevens at the The Crescent, Buxton (Paul Armiger)

Rich from birth, Stevens had first come to prominence in 1957 when, as a 25th birthday present to himself, he bought Queen magazine. He proceeded to transform the staid fortnightly — founded by Mrs Beeton’s husband — into the house magazine of the Swinging Sixties, helped by contributions from his friends Anthony Armstrong-Jones and Mark Boxer, whom he employed as Queen’s art director.

In truth, in 10 years Stevens only managed to increase his publication’s circulation by 60,000, but such was his flair for publicity — much of it self-publicity — that he quadrupled Queen’s advertising revenue within two years. Stevens undoubtedly had a sharp eye for business opportunities, and in 1964 he became one of the principal backers of the pirate radio station Radio Caroline.

It was at Queen that he first began to acquire a reputation for insensitivity and tantrums. Among stories told about Stevens were the occasion when he sacked an underling over the tannoy, the time he threw the fashion editor’s filing cabinet out of a fourth floor window, and the day he cut short one of his reporters’ telephone calls by cutting the wire to their receiver.

Years later, one of his art directors still quailed at the memory of being picked up by Stevens and shaken like a rat by a terrier, while change from his pockets cascaded on to the floor.

In 1968, Stevens sold Queen and became personal assistant to the chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers, Sir Max Aitken. “I hear young Stevens bites the carpet,” said Aitken of his protégé. “That’s no bad thing.” Stevens became a director of the Beaverbrook group in 1971, two years after he had been appointed managing director of the London Evening Standard. The Standard was then failing and Aitken’s brief to Stevens was terse: “Save it”.

Within three years Stevens had placed the newspaper on a sounder footing and was rewarded with the post of managing director of the Daily Express, the fortunes of which were also in long-term decline. Between 1972 and 1981 it was to lose a million readers and six editors; Stevens himself twice refused the editor’s job.

Though Stevens’s tenure coincided with the peak of print union truculence, his frank approach won their admiration, so much so that when he left the Express in 1974 he was “banged out”, the traditional send-off by printers for one of their own. By then he had persuaded them to accept the closure of the newspaper’s Scottish operations — with the loss of 1,800 jobs — and had transferred printing to Manchester without disruption.

Stevens became the managing director of Beaverbrook Newspapers in 1974, and continued as its deputy chairman when the group was bought out by Trafalgar House under Victor Matthews.

In 1979 he and Lord Matthews started the Daily Star, but they had different ideas about the future of what had become Express Newspapers, and in 1981 Stevens was sacked after he had told his chairman once too often what he thought of him. Many in the City suspected that Stevens hoped to buy the group himself, but he was never able to.

Having acquired a reputation as an ardent free marketeer, in 1984 Stevens was asked to enter the world of arts management and accepted appointment as Rector and Vice-Provost of the RCA. By the time he left eight years later, so had two-thirds of the staff, their 17 departments trimmed to four. But Stevens had also balanced the College’s books, introduced business sponsorship of students and increased the numbers applying to the RCA by 25 per cent.

Stevens was an equally unsympathetic but effective chairman of English Heritage. He was no philistine but nor was he a natural conserver of things, his instincts always favouring change. He presided over several well publicised sackings and rows — on one occasion ejecting the secretary of the Twentieth Century Society from his office with the words “Get out! And take that ghastly little man with you,” the latter being a highly respected city surveyor who had been left a hunchback after childhood polio.

But Stevens’s virtues included fighting tenaciously for causes he believed in, and at English Heritage he succeeded in keeping open more listed churches, presided over the restoration of the Albert Memorial and persuaded the Blair Government to improve the setting of Stonehenge by sinking the busy roads next to it. He retired in 2000.

Jocelyn Edward Greville Stevens was born on Valentine’s Day 1932. His mother, the daughter of the newspaper magnate Sir Edward Hulton, died shortly after giving birth to him.

Jocelyn’s father, Major Greville Stewart-Stevens, could never bring himself to forgive his son for the loss of his wife, and as a small boy Jocelyn was sent to live in his own flat in Marylebone, complete with a staff of cook, maid, priest and chauffeur — for the child’s Rolls-Royce.

His father afterwards remarried and Jocelyn grew up with his stepfamily in Scotland; his stepbrother, Blair (later Sir Blair) Stewart-Wilson, would became Master of the Queen’s Household.

Jocelyn was educated at Eton, where he reached the final of the Public Schools’ Boxing Championship. He then did his National Service in the Rifle Brigade; when, as a cadet, he won the Sword of Honour at Eaton Hall, his father declined to attend the passing-out parade.

Stevens went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he proved himself an accomplished oarsman but was sent down from the university for skipping tutorials to go skiing in Switzerland. Stevens had sent his tutor a postcard marked “Wish you were here”; from an early age he was no respecter of authority.

Sir Jocelyn Stevens with the sculpture of the Allied leaders on New Bond Street (Eddie Mulholland)

On his 21st birthday, Stevens inherited a substantial fortune from his mother. He rapidly acquired a standing in the gossip columns, partly because he was regular escort of Princess Alexandra, partly because he had a predilection for driving sports cars into lamp-posts.

But Stevens had ambitions beyond being a playboy and, having put himself through a course at the London School of Printing, in 1955 he went to work as a journalist at Lilliput, a magazine owned by his uncle’s Hulton stable. Two years later he bought Queen.

Stevens was tall, jut-jawed and fearless. He was immensely hard-working and possessed great brio and vitality. He was also a generous giver of parties, notably in company with his consort for many years in later life, the heiress and philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield, one of the few people who could match him for wealth and temperament.

Though seemingly impervious to insult, Stevens was sensitive enough of his reputation to raid the libraries of newspapers he managed in order to confiscate the cuttings held on him. He also did much work for charity, spurred by the condition of his disabled son Rupert. He cared deeply for his family, and when his daughter Pandora fell prey to drugs, he broke down the door of her squat, carried her to hospital and had her dealer hunted down.

Jocelyn Stevens was appointed CVO in 1993 and knighted in 1996.

He married, in 1956 (dissolved 1979), Janie Sheffield, a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. They had a son and two daughters. His son Rupert predeceased him. After he and Vivien Duffield separated, in 2008 he married Emma Cheape, daughter of the late Sir Iain Tennant.

Sir Jocelyn Stevens, born February 14 1932, died October 12 2014


Ed Miliband and Liz McInnes Labour party leader Ed Miliband welcomes newly elected MP for Heywood and Middleton Liz McInnes to the House of Commons after she narrowly beat the Ukip candidate in the byelection. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

So Labour is being urged to get tough on immigration (Report, 11 October)? Fifty years of Labour party history suggests that they will do just that, only to be immediately outflanked by the parties to the right of them. No amount of policy-hardening can quell anti-immigration agitation. What is needed is a political party that will stand up to celebrate the contribution that immigration and the free movement of labour make to the UK while challenging those who attribute all our ills to immigrants.
Professor Robert Moore
University of Liverpool

• Labour’s high command have allowed a series of policy vacuums to emerge, leaving them open to getting involved in a bidding war in which the likeliest winners will be those who pander to, rather than challenge, prejudices. In common with many others, I believe that Alan Johnson may be Labour’s most underused resource, but he alone is not the answer to the individual and collective timidity that has beset the party and a shadow cabinet that seems determined to lose the general election so as to stage a leadership election in the months that follow. Labour must tell us what it stands for, and the ways in which Britain will be changed by defeating Ukip – not simply list cuts that match those being offered by the coalition partners as they square up to one another in the dog days of their administration.
Les Bright

• I could see a “frontline role” for Alan Johnson – as Labour leader. He might be a rightwinger but at least he lives on planet Earth and had a real job before entering politics (Review, 11 October), which makes him a hundred times more attractive to the electorate than the current cohort of complete wonkers “leading” the party into the abyss.
Alistair Richardson

• I feel increasingly baffled as to what Ed Miliband expects us to vote for if we vote Labour. We do not want Tory/Ukip-lite. When politicians talk about the disengagement, especially of young voters but increasingly of older people, do they really not understand why? When we were younger we knew which party supported which view of the kind of society they wanted and we could vote accordingly. When all parties appear to believe to some extent that it is ethical to penalise the poor for the mis-management by the rich, where does that leave us?

It used to be a basic tenet of the Labour party that the rich, however they had come by their wealth, should share with the poor. The view now seems to be: well, maybe a bit, if they don’t mind.

I accept that some areas of the country have specific problems related to sudden immigration and no money to help with schools etc. But that is not the cause of the country’s problems and it is dishonest and futile to pretend that it is.

I believe Ed Miliband to be a decent and thoughtful man, but unless he and his advisers remember what a Labour party is, they might just as well give up. (No, you’re right, there aren’t that many Labour voters in Bishop’s Stortford, but some of us haven’t given up yet.)
Angela Barton
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

• It was surprising to read that John Mann MP (Labour, Bassetlaw) believes that immigration is responsible for “too much housing” and thus, indirectly, Ukip’s recent political success. Official estimates anticipate household growth in England is of the order of 221,000 households per year; if combined with official estimates of migration levels, net inward migration accounts for 27.8% of growing housing need. Since recent figures suggest we build barely half the number of homes needed to meet this demand (with 112,000-odd completions in England in 2013/14), it is factually not correct to state that immigration has led to too much housing.

It would be much more plausible to suggest that too little housing has led to political discontentment, with housing costs rising far faster than incomes, and increasingly those on lower and middle incomes finding that the sort of housing their parents expected is way out of their reach. That could only be addressed by building far more homes than we currently are.
Dr Ed Turner
Aston University

• Like it or not, Ukip’s rant and razzle-dazzle is working far more effectively than the Greens’ worthy exhortation, the Tories’ weasel-worded promises, the Lib Dems’ darkly comic somersaults and Labour’s floundering attempts to make Miliband and co look effective (Letters, 11 October). To a large extent that’s because their well-crafted policy statements, eloquently expressed objectives and (mostly) slick presentations are not resonating with us plain folks, something the policy wonks, spinners and party elites seem unwilling/unable to acknowledge. Well, as they are all discovering, commitment and belief is of limited value if it isn’t accompanied by insight and some sort of wow!
Jim Gillan

• Much of Britain’s Tory-dominated media managed to hype the Clacton and Heywood byelection results as nothing too much to worry about for Mr Cameron, the end of days for Mr Miliband and the start of a period of Faragist world domination. By contrast your editorial (11 October) is a model of careful consideration and balance. The way for Labour to deal with Ukip is not to move further right but to tackle the root causes that motivate those who may vote for the party – namely the continuing pay squeeze and job insecurity.

One hopes Mr Miliband and the rest of the Labour leadership will be on the TUC’s Britain Needs a Pay Rise demonstration on 18 October, and when the Mail and Sun attack them for it, they should see that as positive.
Keith Flett

• Owen Jones’s tale of woe about rootless, soulless political parties (Opinion, 13 October) needs a comment about a national institution that should be providing roots and soul to political thinking: the Church of England, which, despite all its faults, I love. We are both part of the problem and could be part of the solution by our input to a debate about a political system that is not serving the needs of all UK citizens. We are locked into and are beneficiaries of the extreme free-market politics and economics that have infected a rootless and soulless parliament. It has required low- and middle-income households to carry the burden of austerity.

As a church we tinker with staffing food banks and credit unions when what is needed is noisy, sustained and effective lobbying, drawing the attention of comfortable households to the innocent suffering of a substantial minority of the UK population in hunger, substandard housing, unmanageable debts, rent and council tax arrears. Nowhere is that noisy lobbying more absent than in London, where the bishops and archdeacons of the diocese of London, are all but silent in the face of the oppression of the poorest tenants by the state.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• I agree with Owen Jones that “British politics has become a careerists’ playground creating disillusionment that charlatans can exploit”. It is a pity, though, that he doesn’t mention the Greens as a credible alternative, when he exemplifies what the party stands for: “politics should be about hope, about satisfying people’s needs and aspirations”.
Jacqueline Dent

• Now, let’s see if I’ve got this right. Nigel Farage says vote Tory and get Labour. David Cameron says vote Ukip and get Labour. Presumably Ed Miliband would say vote Labour and get Labour. What could possibly go wrong?
Roger Carruthers

I can only wonder at the size of the family Jay Rayner mentions if it took a day and half to shop for them in the 1960s (The unromantic truth: supermarkets aren’t dying…, 11 October)? Was she by chance in a local army barracks, or perhaps she shopped for an entire school? I was 10 in 1962 and had to do the main shop on a Saturday for our family of four working adults – including my older brother and sister – plus my grandfather and myself, because my mum couldn’t lift the heavy bags. I could do the lot in an hour and a half, including carrying 20lb of potatoes in two bags to balance myself. We lived in a city and all the shops were two minutes away, unlike now where I have to drive 10 miles to the supermarket, park and queue for ages at checkouts and then drive home again. There’s nothing romantic about that either.
Eric Banks
Hamstreet, Kent

Yale universyaleity campus Tuition fees at English universities tend to be compared with Ivy League schools such as Yale, above. Photograph: Alamy

In the debates on university tuition fees, raised again by Peter Scott (Let’s fight the idea that high tuition fees are inevitable, 7 October), one relevant point seems to be continually ignored or glossed over. Comparison is often made with fees in the US, and very high fees are quoted as if they were the norm there. However, these figures always relate to the well-known private universities, especially the Ivy League schools, but it would seem that a more reasonable comparison for England is with the fees charged by public universities for in-state students. These are all lower than those currently levied by any English universities, in some cases considerably so. The most expensive, such as Berkeley and UCLA charge around $12,870 [£8,000], but at Chapel Hill (North Carolina) fees are $8,340 and at the University of Florida $6,630. These are major research universities, but most states also have schools with good undergraduate and MA programmes with fees at or below $5,000 per annum.

When the issue of fees is raised, especially with respect to lifting the “cap”, the claim is often made that fees in England are low by comparable international standards, and this seems to have become received wisdom. But such assertions do not become true by dint of constant repetition. Fees in England are already as high as anywhere comparable in the world.
Professor Martin Durrell

• I went for a meal with a friend, where we discovered that the waitress had recently graduated with a degree in mathematics. I have met this in several other restaurants, where young people 10 times smarter than I am are serving my table.

My silly companion told me that this proved that it had always been a mistake to send so many students to university. I think it proves that we live in the most badly governed country on Earth, where a nation’s most valuable resource is deliberately discarded into a moronic private sector of dreadfully poor judgment.

The intelligence of these youngsters could resurrect the most important part of a modern economy, the public sector, driving research and analysis to higher levels, to rebuild our nation and its commerce, to civilised standards of honour, integrity and reliable erudition.
CN Westerman
Brynna, Glamorgan

British Government Signs A Deal For New Nuclear Power Plant EDF’s Hinkley Point B nuclear power station. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Dale Vince of Ecotricity is wrong to suggest that end-of-life costs for Hinkley Point C will be an economic burden on the UK (Report, 13 October). These costs are already included as part of the agreements reached with government, and we will make full provision for them as the station generates electricity during its 60-year life. There is no hidden cost when the station closes.

Investment in nuclear energy is needed as part of a balanced mix of low-carbon energies, including wind power. It is cost-competitive with all these forms of energy and offers customer savings compared with other low-carbon choices.

Consumers will pay nothing until the power station is in operation, and EDF and its construction partners bear the risk of delivering the project on time and on budget. The arrangements have been subject to intense review over a number of years and were then subject to European commission scrutiny for a further year. This has been a careful and measured process. Last week’s approval from the commission demonstrates that agreements between the government and EDF are fair and balanced for consumers and investors alike.
Paul Spence
Director of strategy and corporate affairs, EDF Energy

Republican mural, Derry, 1989. Talking point: republican mural, Derry, 1989. Photograph: Peter Turnley/Corbis

Jonathan Powell (Shall we talk?, 7 October) has little to say except repeated rewordings of the near slogan: there is no military solution [to terrorism], you have to talk. His favourite example is Northern Ireland, but this is actually a very poor example. He writes: “No British government was ever going to concede a united Ireland against the wishes of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland [but] once discussions were begun with the Irish Republicans, we discovered that they were prepared to settle for something else.”

Not for 25 years they weren’t, so Britain had to face down the insurgency, which Britain did. Eventually an older, perhaps mellower, IRA leadership accepted that they weren’t winning, and settled for an agreement that they could certainly have got with the Heath government in the 1970s.

And the IRA had a comprehensible political agenda (a united Ireland). Does Islamic State (Isis) have a correspondingly comprehensible agenda? The nearest is a pure Islamic state purged bloodily of all dissenters, somewhere in Syria and Iraq. But this is envisaged to be permanently at war with the rest of the world, fighting to oppose all real and imagined grievances of Muslims everywhere.

Maybe Isis will eventually develop a meaningful agenda, and maybe will one day even be willing to compromise about it. But at present we are at 1970, not 1996, in Northern Ireland terms.
Roger Schafir

• Jonathan Powell is right; talking to terrorists is the only way to establish some sort of peace. He is also right that building trust takes time – “I spent a good part of the next 10 years [from 1997] flying back and forth across the Irish Sea to meet Adams and McGuinness”.

NGOs engaged in similar work also need time. And resources. But there is little funding from governments or the EU, because peacebuilding is regarded as too difficult, too risky, with no guaranteed outcomes.
Rev Donald Reeves
Director, The Soul of Europe

Jane Austen Jane Austen, above, wrote about bad mothers too. Photograph: Stock Montage/Getty Images

“Family” novels by women writers featuring bad mothers (Tim Lott, Family, 11 October) were a standard trope in 19th-century literature. Jane Austen’s lazy Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park prefers her pug to her children. Charlotte Brontë’s cold Mrs Reed in Jane Eyre spoils her children and believes her bullying son’s lies. Elizabeth Gaskell’s hypocritical Mrs Gibson in Wives and Daughters neglects her daughter. All are described with compassion and wit. Perhaps that makes them not quite bad enough?
Michele Roberts

• Pairing socks, hoover, dishwasher and the Guardian crossword were my late husband’s responsibilities when he was ill-health retired (Letters, 10 October). In his last few bedbound weeks he tried to hand over the crossword, but even after his intensive training it is still too cryptic for me. I have kept Radio 5 Live.
Miriam Bromnick

• Excellent idea, Tristram Hunt: I’m sure your “Hippocratic oath” for teachers (Cartoon, 13 October) will help to weed out those who begin their careers determined to lower standards in the classroom and ensure their students’ failure.
Tim Boardman

• I was surprised to see that the nurses testing Britain’s readiness for an Ebola outbreak did not have the whole of their heads covered (Report, 13 October). Suppose someone was sick over their neck? These protective garments are nothing like as good as the photographs I have seen in the Guardian of Médecins Sans Frontières workers in Africa. And MSF has had fewer deaths than the US and Spain. No point skimping.
Teresa Goss

• As a female letter writer (Open door, 13 October), I do my best to emulate Bradshaw, as quoted (in part) by Sherlock Holmes. My language is “terse, but limited”. Though not “nervous”.
Margaret Waddy

• Delighted that Martin Rowson (Comment, 8 October) explained the meaning of the “fur cup” in some of his cartoons. I’ll enjoy them all the more from now on.
Andrew Vaughan-Jones
Turvey, Bedfordshire


In her excellent piece on Monday, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown refers to Nigel Farage’s “veil of respectability”. What kind of respectable person casually stigmatises those who are HIV positive, or indiscriminately demonises eastern European immigrants, or suggests that leaving the EU will miraculously cure the country’s ills?

It is precisely because Nigel Farage has managed to convince so many people that he is respectable that he is so dangerous. His carefully cultivated man-down-the-pub persona is designed to persuade voters that he is one of them, when what he really wants, lower taxes for the rich, more NHS privatisation etc, is the exact opposite of what they believe.

Like other right-wing populists who have preceded him, he is a legitimiser and normaliser of prejudice and a malign influence on democracy. It is the duty of all of us, especially progressive politicians, to denounce him as such in the strongest terms.

Ian Richards


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown appeals to the main political parties not to roll over in the face of the Ukip “malignancy”, and she mentions the Conservatives and Labour as having already done so. What she did not say was that one of the main parties – the Liberal Democrats – is by no means rolling over.

At their party conference last week, Nick Clegg gave the speech of a lifetime. He stressed that the Lib Dems must continue to stand up for basic freedoms, economic fairness, the advantages of the EU and the European Court of Justice, freedom of movement and social justice in this country.

I am one of those Lib Dems who have been unenthusiastic about the Coalition and unsure about where I stood now. The Tory conference demonstrated an unpleasant lurch to the right which made me very uneasy, and Labour’s produced a lacklustre performance.

But at the Lib Dem conference, the conviction and, yes, the fire in Nick Clegg’s voice as he stressed the need for this party of the centre to stand up for fairness and freedom, brought tears to my eyes and reminded me at long last of why this is still the only party I can vote for.

Marjorie Harris
London NW11

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s assertion that many indigenous Britons are content to live alongside citizens from other parts of the world who have settled here is correct, but isn’t the full picture. Those same British-born people still have concerns about the financial cost of this cosmopolitan society, welcome as it is.

It is clear that the eastern European immigrants come to Britain to work, but the work tends to low-paid, and therefore any taxes they may pay are likely to be repaid to them in benefits to enable them to survive and support their families. They also tend to be young, and the overcrowded maternity wards bear testimony to another national expense that their meagre taxes cannot possibly cover, not to mention all the cost and infrastructure required to keep these children healthy and educated. There has been much in the media about the NHS budget, and whatever any politician may say to win votes, there is a limit to how much we can afford as a nation.

Of course we should have open borders and encourage harmony among all who have chosen this great nation as their home, but let’s do so on a sound financial basis.

Jeremy Bacon
Woodford Green, Essex

I saw a glaring example today of immigrants “stealing the jobs of UK workers”.

In a supermarket car park some Bulgarians had a mobile car washing set-up. They had found a niche market. People who were too busy to take time out to go to the car wash or wash their cars themselves were happy to let these guys do it while they shopped, and they did not have to drive their cars anywhere.

I watched them beavering away, doing a great job with enthusiasm.

Richard Topping
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

The political establishment has received a sizeable jolt from the Clacton and Heywood and Middleton by-elections. The fundamental conclusion that can be drawn from the inexorable rise of Ukip is that many people in Britain simply do not consider themselves European, and see the isolationist stance of Ukip as a strength, not a weakness.

The reason for this may be rooted in a combination of history, emotion and pride, but to counteract it the main political parties are going to have to address this matter head on.

Dr Shazad Amin
Sale, Cheshire


To save Britain from Ebola, Help Africa

As the Government introduces measures to try to  prevent the arrival of Ebola in Britain, it would be fatal to forget that the best way to help the UK is to help West Africa. This outbreak needs tackling at source, and in order to change the course of the crisis, we mustn’t simply hunker down in developed nations.

Donors must co-ordinate action to tackle what has become not only a health crisis, but an economic crisis and a human tragedy. The people of West Africa need massive assistance. They need it now.

Of course it is important for the UK government to protect people here, but the only truly effective way of doing so in the long term is to bring this crisis under control in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. We must break the chain of infection.

Tanya Barron
CEO, Plan UK
London EC1

That isn’t actually what the Minister said, was it? (“Minister: We need to start screening for Ebola”, 8 October). As the complete quote within the article makes clear, he actually said the case for increasing screening had to be examined and we need to consider whether existing controls are adequate. Examining or considering things are different from starting to do them.

Nigel Coopey
Thatcham, Berkshire

Homeopathy could save NHS money

Jo Selwood points out that the expenditure by the NHS on homoeopathy is £4m to £12m and that this treatment, which has no scientific basis, is no more effective than a placebo (letter, 9 October). However, she fails to complete her cost-benefit analysis.

The placebo effect is a powerful one and appears to occur even when patients are told that the treatment has no detectable therapeutic effect. Placebos do work and the majority of doctors do prescribe them from time to time – either genuine treatments that are not needed (such antibiotics for viral infections), or inactive substances such as sugar or water.

By having the freedom to divert certain patients into homoeopathy doctors could be saving the NHS money overall.  Homoeopathic remedies have the advantage of being as cheap as water. Some of these homoeopathic patients, the attention seekers or those who are simply hyper-vigilant about their wellbeing, might otherwise be clogging up the expensive diagnostic processes and therapies needed for those who have genuine serious health problems.

Before abandoning NHS homoeopathic treatments, we need a thorough cost-benefit analysis, including a study to establish the additional costs of having to treat with conventional medicine those patients who currently use homoeopathy.

Ian Quayle
Fownhope, Herefordshire

Chatty machines in the kitchen

I am reassured that, in the future, kitchen appliances will be able to communicate with each another (interview with Simon Segars, 13 October).

I would still like to know what a washing machine and a fridge could possibly have to talk about. I can only imagine that the washing machine would want to get to the bottom of that age-old kitchen puzzle: does the light really go off when the door is closed ?

Gary Clark
London EC2


You may not win, but your vote counts

I have been voting for 39 years and have never cast my vote for the politician who has been chosen to represent my constituency. Unlike Frances Gaskell (letter, 10 October) I do not see that my vote has ever been wasted or that, because I failed to get what I voted for, the process was undemocratic or unfair. All votes are counted, and the number of opposing voices are also part of the historical record.

It seems to me childish to say that if the game isn’t played according to rules that suit me I’ll not play at all.

Sarah Dale
Lichfield, Staffordshire

Express passports

Beverley Southgate (letter, 9 October) enthuses about getting a passport in five working days.

Mine took just four (application posted in afternoon of 6 October and received back at home by post on 10 October). It wasn’t an urgent application. Owzat!

Marc Patel
London SE21


Sir, It was refreshing, but deeply frustrating, to read that the government now admits that the Health and Social Care Bill was a huge mistake (report, Oct 13). Frustrating because in 2011-12, when medical professionals were united as never before against the proposed changes, there was little if any media reporting of that opposition. Instead, we had to read Andrew Lansley’s repeated assertions that doctors backed the legislation.

Those of us who urged our professional bodies, and in particular the Royal Colleges, to adopt a unified stance against the Act now see that we were right in telling them that they could make a difference. In 2012, David Cameron was indeed realising what a can of worms had been opened by his health secretary, and could have been persuaded to drop the legislation. I hope it isn’t only George Osborne who is “kicking himself” for failing to act.

Dr Bob Bury

Sir, Your headline “NHS reforms our worst mistake, Tories admit”, published on the day when caring midwives took industrial action for the first time in history, could, and perhaps should, have been written in June 1990. I said then that the introduction of Kenneth Clarke’s untried and potentially unworkable “internal market” could lead to the NHS standing for “No Hope Service” and ultimately “No Health Service”.

Sadly, despite a promise not to embark on “top down” reform of the NHS, the current government’s acceptance of the Health and Social Care Act, with its huge involvement of the private sector, accelerated the problems that flowed from the 1990 reforms. It reinforced my fears that, if I live long enough, I will see my 1990 prediction come true.

Dr John Marks
Chairman of the British Medical Association 1984-90, London NW8

Sir, Having just returned from the Royal College of Midwives picket line at the hospital I have worked in for the past 25 years, I stared with incredulity at your headline “NHS reforms our worst mistake, Tories admit”. A “mistake”? Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money wasted because no one understood what Andrew Lansley was doing?

It sounds like a cruel joke but actually means that huge sums of money that could have been used to maintain and improve patient care have been lost, frittered away on “unintelligible gobbledegook”.

I am beyond angry. There is a great deal in the NHS that could be changed — and indeed needs to be. The fracturing and duplication of services, the failure to negotiate best price deals across the whole organisation, and the failure to invest, motivate and lead by listening and consultation instead of top-down diktat. A “mistake” that has led to increased waiting times, services buckling under financial and organisational strain and demoralised, increasingly militant staff. I am 55. I never imagined myself on a picket line. As important as it is to me and many thousands of other NHS staff who struggle to keep the service going, pay is but one factor in the impending disaster.

Heather Redhead RN, RM

Sir, Nowhere in your extensive coverage of the NHS (Oct 13) was there any reference to the fundamental dilemma facing the NHS — namely that there is a limitless potential demand for its services which has to be met by a strictly limited financial resource.

There is just one, and only one, way to resolve this dilemma, and that is to decide which services a tax-funded national health organisation can provide and which it cannot.

Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites
Fishbourne, W Sussex

Sir, Andrew Lansley’s talent for acting foolishly without regard to the financial consequences first became apparent when, as director of the Conservative Research Department, he changed the party’s manifesto for the 1992 election behind the back of John Major’s advisers while it was at the printer. It cost £50,000 to return it to the condition that the cabinet had approved. If the kindness of the party hierarchy had not saved his career at that point, the NHS budget today would be in a better state.

Lord Lexden(Deputy director, Conservative Research Department, 1985-97)
House of Lords

Sir, That the Health and Social Care Act was damaging to the NHS was made abundantly clear at the time of the debate around the bill by those both inside and outside the NHS who knew the consequences. The government should have kept its promise as enshrined in the coalition agreement of May 20, 2010, which stated: “We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care.” Is there a lesson there somewhere for the electorate?

Professor Robert Arnott
Cheltenham, Glos

Sir, Since the start of the NHS in 1948 we have seen successive governments of differing political persuasions make inappropriate, poorly considered and often damaging structural changes.

Has not the time arrived to consider taking control of the NHS out of politicians’ hands and giving the NHS autonomy, governed by a board of trustees?

Dr Stuart Sanders, FRCGP
London W1

Sir, You report that David Cameron now regards the Health and Social Care Act as his greatest mistake. This is a ludicrous admission, as the reforms ushered in by the Act have yet to be fully bedded down. Andrew Lansley understood that there needs to be a means by which expensive hospitals are forced to become more efficient and the purchaser/provider split is the only way to do it.

In your consideration of the future of the NHS you might include how market forces might be brought to bear on such a huge organisation, with all the benefits which follow market arrangements. I doubt you could find a better way to do it.

Roger Fox
Down Hatherley, Glos

Sir, Your coverage of the NHS is welcome. but you fail to make clear that the changes introduced by Mr Lansley apply only to England. The NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not had to cope with the madness of Lansley’s “gobbledegook”. Also, Simon Stevens is not the “head of the NHS”. He is the head of the NHS in England.

Professor Rhys Williams

Essential for any WW2 soldier was the Burmese for ‘Do you have any Epsom Salts?’

Sir, With reference to your report (Oct 11) on the 1944 manual given to British soldiers, my late father was given, also in 1944 and while serving with the Royal Navy in the Far East, a booklet entitled Rubbing Along in Burmese. This contained useful phrases, translated into the local language, that every sailor would presumably find invaluable. Phrases included “Please shake hands, we have come in the cause of freedom”, “If you do as we tell you, you will come to no harm”, “Where can I find a bicycle?” and “Can you row a sampan?” It also included the Burmese for “Do you have any Epsom Salts?”

Robert Spicer

Colchester, Essex

If you want to see a full-size copy of the Parthenon, head for Nashville, Tennessee…

Sir, If the Elgin Marbles are to be copied (letter, Oct 13) may I suggest a visit to Nashville, Tennessee. Not only have all the sculptures been recreated but so has the entire Parthenon — faithfully and to scale. It was built for the 1897 Centennial Expo and reconstructed more permanently in 1931. At that time the city purchased casts of the Elgin Marbles which were then used by the sculptors Leopold and Belle Scholz to form the pediments in their original entirety.

The Nashville Parthenon is a sight as surprising as it is remarkable

Edward Hill

London W8

Hampton Court Palace is where Queen Anne ‘doth sometimes counsel take and sometimes tea’

Sir, It is good to see the return of the zeugma (letter, Oct 13). My favourite is Alexander Pope’s description of Hampton Court Palace as the place where Queen Anne “doth sometimes counsel take and sometimes tea”.

John Butler


The local Scottish population helped to inform the choice of names for Erno Goldfinger’s buildings in east London

Sir, Oliver Moody (Oct 4) extends his criticism of Ernö Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower to its name, which sounds to him like “an orc-ridden outpost of Mordor”. The inhabitants of the Stirlingshire village of Balfron will, I am sure, be dismayed. The adjacent building, also by Goldfinger, is called Carradale House, after the village on the Mull of Kintyre of that name, and the third substantial block was named Glenkerry House after a hamlet near Selkirk. There was a marked Scottish element in the population of that part of Bow in the 1960s, resulting in the choice of Scottish place names.

Balfron, incidentally, was the birthplace of the 19th-century architect Alexander “Greek” Thompson, so perhaps the name-chooser in the GLC was trying to suggest a subtle and not wholly unjustified affinity.

James Dunnett

London N1

Surely a slight reduction in crop yields is a fair exchange for not polluting the environment?

Sir, In his piece (Oct 6) on the impact of the moratorium on neonicotinoid use on farming, Matt Ridley asserts that oilseed rape crops are now being devastated because they are no longer protected by these chemicals, and that in some regions up to 50 per cent of the crop has been lost.

His figures are wild exaggerations: only days ago Defra revealed that in reality just 1.35 per cent of the crop has been lost. If that is the price for not polluting the environment with highly persistent neurotoxins, I suggest it is one we should live with.

Professor Dave Goulson

School of Life Sciences,

University of Sussex

Hampton Court Palace is where Queen Anne ‘doth sometimes counsel take and sometimes tea’

Sir, It is good to see the return of the zeugma (letter, Oct 13). My favourite is Alexander Pope’s description of Hampton Court Palace as the place where Queen Anne “doth sometimes counsel take and sometimes tea”.

John Butler



Lock-up: the Government has proposed building the largest children’s prison in Europe Photo: Gareth Copley/PA

6:56AM BST 13 Oct 2014


SIR – Government plans for the largest children’s prison in Europe are bad for children, bad for justice and bad for the taxpayer. Children in trouble with the law are some of the most vulnerable and challenging in our society. Many have been the victims of abuse and neglect.

Small, family-like, secure homes that focus on rehabilitation and tailored, individual learning are better at helping children turn their lives around. Instead we get a plan to create massive child prisons and no details on how they will be run. Proposals to house young children with older teenagers present serious safeguarding risks.

There are 40 per cent fewer children in prison today than when this policy of large prisons for children was first developed, and since 2002 youth crime has fallen by 63 per cent. The estimated £85 million of public money required for this project would be better spent on investing in what works rather than an expensive and dangerous child jail.

Warehousing children in massive prisons is the surest way to create more problems for the future.

Peter Wanless

Shami Chakrabarti
Director, Liberty

Paola Uccellari
Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England

Frances Crook
Chief Executive, the Howard League for Penal Reform

Penelope Gibbs
Chair, Standing Committee on Youth Justice

Juliet Lyon
Director, Prison Reform Trust

Kathy Evans
Chief Executive, Children England

Anna Feuchtwang
Chief Executive, National Children’s Bureau

Susanne Rauprich
Chief Executive, The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services

Emma Smale
Acting Head of Policy and Research, Action for Children

Professor Sir Simon Wessely
President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Sarah Brennan
Chief Executive, YoungMinds

Dame Sue Bailey
Chair, the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition

Andy Bell
Deputy Chief Executive, Centre for Mental Health

Shauneen Lambe
Executive Director, Just for Kids Law

Deborah Coles
Co-Director, INQUEST

Sarah Salmon
Interim Director, Criminal Justice Alliance

Pam Hibbert
Chair of Trustees, National Association for Youth Justice

Dave Clarke
Chair, Secure Accommodation Network

Gareth Jones
Chair, The Association of Youth Offending Team Managers

Dr Laura Janes
James Kenrick

Co-Chairs, JustRights

Joyce Moseley
Chair, Transition to Adulthood Alliance

Sara Llewellin
Chief Executive Officer, Barrow Cadbury Trust

Richard Garside
Director, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

Deborah Russo
Joint Managing Solicitor, Prisoners’ Advice Service

Mark Johnson
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, User Voice

Chris Bath
Chief Executive, National Appropriate Adult Network

Dr Theo Gavrielides
Founder and Director, Independent Academic Research Studies

Sally Hunt
General Secretary, University and College Union

Winds of change

SIR – I have a well-placed 15 kWh wind turbine on my farm on Bodmin Moor, to which no one objected and which I regard as a thing of beauty, as do many of my neighbours. With the 50 kWh generated by my modest array of solar panels, I generate enough electricity for 33 average households, which is fed into the grid. I also drive a fully electric car.

My turbine cost me £60,000 three years ago and earns me about £10,000 a year – a fair return for using my capital to help the country stop using fossil fuels. If every farmer with a suitable site did the same, we could approach electrical independence without any capital investment from the Government. The countryside would look much as it did in the Middle Ages, when every village had a windmill.

Robin Hanbury-Tenison
Bodmin, Cornwall

Oven ready

SIR – After moving into a modest three-bed semi, I received a letter from British Gas stating that my projected gas usage for the next 12 months would cost £53,533.14.

I almost felt like sticking my head in the oven but realised I couldn’t afford to.

Mark Saban
Broxbourne, Hertfordshire

Blind leading the blind

SIR – Living east of your work, to avoid driving into the sun, indeed seems a good idea. But is it safer to be in a convoy knowing all the approaching drivers can see you perfectly, or to be converging on traffic being driven blind?

Terry Wall
Hiltingbury, Hampshire

SIR – The only work I can get that isn’t to the west of where I live is as a fisherman.

Brendan Martin
Broadstairs, Kent

Flying the flag: A Palestinian at the border with Israel Photo: EPA

6:57AM BST 13 Oct 2014


SIR – In 1917 my great-uncle, Sir Harold Nicolson, was a private secretary to the foreign secretary at the time of his Balfour Declaration. Nicolson, who was involved in crafting every word of the declaration, later wrote: “We never promised a Jewish State. All we ever promised was ‘a’ national home ‘in’ Palestine; and that promise was explicitly conditional on the maintenance of the rights of the Arabs.” (The Spectator, January 3 1947).

In the century following Balfour, we have witnessed those Palestinian rights trampled underfoot. Today MPs can vote to recognise the state of Palestine, which would help to restore the diplomatic balance and retrieve our reputation in the eyes of the world.

It would also warn Israel, as a friend, to save herself from a future even more disastrous than that facing white South Africa in 1990. In a single-state solution Israelis would be outnumbered, even before counting the millions of Palestinian refugees with a right of return.

Nick St Aubyn
Dunsfold, Surrey

SIR – We fully support a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, but it is vital that this is achieved through negotiations and mutual agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Parliament should avoid recommending any unilateral moves that would complicate efforts to find a mutually agreeable resolution. Compromise, conciliation and negotiation are the only routes to reaching a lasting agreement that brings security and stability to both sides.

We urge MPs to ensure that the weight and authority of the Commons remains behind encouraging a negotiated and lasting peace, rather than supporting steps that might make peace more difficult to secure.

Alan Aziz
Director, Zionist Federation

Simon Johnson
Chief Executive, Jewish Leadership Council

Dermot Kehoe
Chief Executive, BICOM

Gillian Merron
Chief Executive, Board of Deputies of British Jews

SIR – Driving around the Scottish Borders, I see many dead and injured pheasants. They make suicidal dives into the road, which makes them hard to avoid and attempts to dodge them can cause accidents.

Gamekeepers rear and release thousands of these birds for shooting estates and it has been suggested that feeding stations are sited too near highways.

If I were to try to take a bird from an estate, a keeper would undoubtedly challenge me. But if a pheasant were to damage my car I assume that no keeper would claim ownership, let alone liability.

Frances Evans
Coldingham, Berwickshire

SIR – In Clacton, a sitting MP, who resigned, has been re-elected as a Ukip candidate and with a lower majority. In Heywood and Middleton, a Ukip candidate came a close second.

The latter result is more likely to reflect the outcome of the 2015 general election.

Dennis Bryant
Ludlow, Shropshire

SIR – The Prime Minister seeks to persuade us to vote not for the party we want to govern, but for a party we do not want to govern, in an effort to prevent a party we want to govern even less from governing.

In view of the result in Heywood and Middleton, I am tempted to suggest that a vote for the Conservatives, rather than Ukip, is a vote for Labour.

Andreas Wright
Les Grandes Magnelles, Haute-Vienne, France

Victim of justice

SIR – Paul Gambaccini, a respected broadcaster and music industry professional, has been denied his good name and his income for a year without a single charge being laid (report, October 11). The process of naming suspects of the nastiest crimes without a shred of evidence, and then taking a year or more to decide whether or not to charge them, is quite simply unjust.

Jonathan Hawkins
London SW20

Steaming rhubarb

SIR – In Cornwall as a small child I would watch with horror as my father rushed out, shovelled up steaming deposits from passing horses and dumped them on the rhubarb – which I was later forced to eat.

But now I think that Heather Moore, who proposes nappies for horses, should make the most of the free manure – it does produce delicious rhubarb.

Jill Bayly
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – I am reminded of a story about an inmate peering over the wall of an asylum and asking a gardener why he is collecting horse manure.

When the gardener says it’s to put on his rhubarb, the inmate responds that he should join them in the asylum as they have custard on theirs.

Clive Robinson
Old Glossop, Derbyshire

Health workers carry the body of an Ebola virus victim in Kenema, Sierra Leone Photo: REUTERS

7:00AM BST 13 Oct 2014


SIR – As the Government introduces measures to try to prevent the arrival of Ebola in this country, it could be fatal to forget that the best way to help Britain is to help west Africa. We must bring the crisis under control in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Donors must urgently commit financial and human resources and co-ordinate action to tackle what has become a health and economic crisis, but, above all, a human tragedy. The people of west Africa need assistance and they need it now.

Tanya Barron
CEO, Plan UK
London EC1

SIR – Of course any decent person must have sympathy for the poor people of west Africa, but surely it is irresponsible to send 750 personnel and a hospital ship to attempt to stem the tide of this terrible illness.

If Ebola is not a world problem at the moment, it certainly could be once the 750 British personnel return from Sierra Leone, any one of them a potential carrier.

Ken Drury
Nayland, Suffolk

SIR – The United Nations and developed countries could assist in controlling the spread of Ebola by helping to install sanitary systems in west African cities.

Establishing a good source of clean running water and waste disposal would raise the standard of living and health as well as discouraging mosquito breeding.

Elizabeth Davies
Papworth Everard, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Screening for Ebola at airports may be useful, but what about people entering through our ports and ferry terminals?

Roy Hughes
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

SIR – The Ebola virus was discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 and scientists have repeatedly warned that it can pass from animals to humans who prepare or eat infected meat. Five outbreaks in Africa have been linked to handling meat from gorillas, chimps, fruit bats and other animals.

It is estimated that 7,500 tons of bush meat enters Britain every year illegally. Just one piece of infected meat smuggled into the country could unleash Ebola here.

Clark Cross
Linlithgow, West Lothian

SIR – I fail to understand those suggesting mass quarantining for people arriving in Britain and warning of catastrophic consequences because of our high population density.

Ebola is not highly infectious, except by direct bodily fluid contact and, crucially, it is not infectious until a person becomes unwell. Instead of fuelling the hysteria surrounding Ebola in Britain, we must focus on the real problem: controlling it in Africa, regardless of cost.

Dr Stewart McMenemin

Irish Times:

Sir, – Many excellent and compelling arguments against the proposed new lending rules were raised by Conor Pope (“First-time buyers? Dream on”, Weekend Review, October 14th). The proposed new rules on mortgage lending are ill-conceived and very poorly timed. The key measure in assessing risk is affordability and the proposed ratio of 3.5 times earnings is reasonable. The argument for a deposit, at any level, revolves around two issues – demonstration of financial discipline and the avoidance of negative equity. Anyone saving a 10 per cent deposit at today’s house prices clearly demonstrates good financial discipline. While negative equity can cause inconvenience for borrowers, limiting their ability to upgrade in the short term, it is not a serious issue over the lifetime of a typical mortgage. An adequately capitalised lender should be able to plan for short-term effects of negative equity, within a well-managed portfolio, on its balance sheet. Imposing a 20 per cent deposit is just going to drive borrowers, as it did in the past, to accumulate this burdensome deposit through opaque, poor-quality, short-term borrowing. This will result in greater financial stress on the mortgage applicant and also deliver a poorer risk for the bank. Or we may again see the banks promote the obscene equity release product – where pensioners, who own their homes, start to pay for them again a second time as they are driven, through guilt, to raise cash to help their children face this impractical condition.

A well-policed 10 per cent deposit, together with intense scrutiny on affordability, meets the needs of the bank, the borrower and the community. – Yours, etc,


Kells, Co Meath.

Sir, – The new requirement that people getting a mortgage will need to have saved a large chunk of the purchase money first is not unreasonable.

When the banking crisis happened, we wondered why prudent practices such as this has been abandoned in the eagerness to sell houses. Buying a house is not a right.

Indeed it was common practice that people saved for many years to buy a house and did not expect to be able to furnish it with the very best furniture, have cool gadgets, drive new cars, attend foreign weddings and go out whenever the mood arose.

Saving a large portion of the purchase price is evidence that the people buying the property have the developed habits of saving, budgeting, resisting temptation and attending to financial obligations.

Rating the purchasers’ commitment against the value of the property addresses the risk that should trouble arise and the security is insufficient, the banks (and the public purse) are not the only losers. It confirms that the purchasers have fully thought the matter through, beyond their desire to get on the property ladder.

There is no doubt this is difficult, but it wouldn’t be an achievement if it was easy. – Yours, etc,


Wilton, Cork.

Sir, – Is it possible that Irish people, when it comes to property prices, have gone from a mood of irrational exuberance to a mood of irrational fear; that any increase in prices is seen as a bubble, and therefore needs to be halted?

The Central Bank has announced measures that, as things stand, will have the effect of excluding a great many people from ever owning their own dwelling, and will leave them permanently dependent on the rented sector.

Before any such measures are adopted, the Central Bank will first have to establish that there is a bubble; that is not, so far as I know, quite as easy to establish as some people seem to think. If the measures are then seen to be justified, then the issue of social housing needs to be addressed: are people, already required to put up a 20 per cent deposit on their purchase of a dwelling, willing to see their taxes increased to meet this need? The evidence doesn’t appear to be there that they are. If they are not, where is the money going to come from?

The Central Bank was a disaster during the housing bubble; no one should take it for granted that they’ll get it right this time. Announcing measures to cure a problem they haven’t as yet established exists, but which will have a very serious impact on less well-off people, is unacceptable. The Central Bank still has a case to prove. – Yours, etc,


Mount Brown, Dublin 8.

Sir, – The proposal to limit mortgage lending to a fixed multiple of earnings is crude and illogical. A much more sensible approach would be to base a mortgage on the applicant’s savings history and monthly rent. It would be quite easy for a mortgage applicant to provide documentary proof of both of these and this would let a bank make a rational decision on lending based on proven ability to pay.

The 20 per cent deposit rule serves only to cushion the bank against a borrower losing their job and being forced to sell at a loss. Again this rule is crude and takes no account of the borrower’s job stability. For example, a permanently employed teacher or civil servant is a pretty safe bet and the bank should be able to make the appropriate commercial decision.

The current proposals by the Central Bank are crude instruments that carry the real risk of killing off the recovery in the property market. A more sophisticated approach, which would protect the banks, the borrowers and the State, is needed. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 5.

Sir, – Old-style politics continues to drag the already damaged political system into further decline, and some of our politicians continue to ignore the demand for change from the general public. The younger members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do get this message but their ability to influence the stubborn and intransigent leadership is nil. I predict a further move away from the mainstream parties to Sinn Féin and Independents. While the economic outlook may be improving, the political system continues to deteriorate and no longer serves the will of the people. – Yours, etc,


Killiney, Co Dublin.

Sir, – We have seen a significant public turnout in the capital opposing water charges and electoral victories for the anti-austerity alliance and the anti-establishment “Ming movement”. What does this tell us about our preferred society? Anarchy? A future of sectional self-interests paying no heed to the common good? Embedded begrudgery? We’ll reap the whirlwind. – Yours, etc,



Co Kerry.

Sir, – Could this be what’s known as a tapping point? – Yours, etc,


Raheny, Dublin 5.

Sir, – The proposal to appoint a key figure linked to the drinks industry to the board of RTÉ (“Opposition to RTÉ nomination of outgoing Meas chief executive”, October 10th) speaks volumes about our commitment as a nation to tackling the greatest social issue facing our country at this time.

In Ireland, television is the most powerful instrument available to the drinks industry, enabling it to promote its products to young and old, as it has done for well over 50 years since the establishment of RTÉ television. For that reason, the possibility that a person who has headed Meas, a drinks industry-funded “social responsibility agency”, beggars belief.

The drinks industry is fighting to influence decision-makers at all levels and in every sphere to ensure that the state does not step in to regulate the advertising and promotion of alcohol, as has been the case in other countries, notably in France, where the law limits the exposure of alcohol promotion to younger people.

Whether or not this appointment goes ahead is now in the hands of a Minister, Alex White, who up to very recently was responsible for the formulation of health policy in relation to alcohol and its promotion. Let’s hope he sees the big picture. – Yours, etc,


Crossmolina, Co Mayo.

Sir, – It was reported in this newspaper (“Council defends demolition of houses in Moyross”, October 10th) that Limerick City Council has defended the ongoing demolitions of valuable housing stock in Moyross, stating that such demolitions are “strategic demolitions planned due to strategic planning reasons”.

I have to ask whose strategic interests are being served by these demolitions? Certainly not the three 18-year-olds who arrived on my door today who have been sleeping rough in Limerick city. Certainly not the 30 or so parents with young children who have recently called to my office because they are homeless, are at risk of homelessness, or have no appropriate roof over their heads. I have to look such people in the face, often help dry their tears and can’t offer anything meaningful. Yet outside my window the trucks roll by with rubble from a freshly demolished house. I ask again, who benefits from this strategic demolition? I say again, stop! – Yours, etc,


Parish Priest,



Sir, – It is hard to disagree with Ross McCarthy (October 10th) when he says “a safer, healthier and more prosperous world is better for all of us”. However he produces no evidence to show that the maintenance or even an increase in Irish overseas aid will contribute to this objective. Over the past decade or so there has been significant economic growth in many developing countries, all of which has been caused by increased trade and investment. The old mantra “trade not aid” holds true. It is also true that the elimination or the much-reduced incidence of war in many of these countries has helped.

There is no reason why Ireland should continue to borrow over €600 million a year to waste on foreign aid projects. The funds would be better off used to finance much-needed spending on health or education services at home or indeed to reduce the fiscal deficit. If Irish people in general support foreign aid spending, they can continue to do it through the multitude of Irish and international charities. This is not to argue that Ireland should not allocate a small budget of say €100 million to contribute to short-term disaster and emergency relief programmes such as the current Ebola crisis. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Joe Humphreys (“Are university grades being inflated to suit jobs market?”, October 13th) suggests that companies demanding a first or 2.1 for entry level jobs or internships is a factor in the proportion of such degrees awarded. If Irish universities continue to respond in this way to the demands of employers, Ireland’s experience will likely mirror that in the US, where the minimum requirement for sustained employment in many fields is now a master’s degree. – Yours, etc,


Sterling Heights,

Michigan, US

Sir, – While David McConnell (October 13th) may, like Karl Popper, assert that “Mathematics, chess and music, poetry, plays and books of all kinds, symphonies and song, painting and philosophy, family, friendship and fellowship, ordinary conversations, scientific theories from relativity to plate tectonics to evolution by natural selection” are all inventions of mankind, as a member of the same species, I couldn’t possibly take any credit for these marvellous “inventions” which add such pleasure and meaning to my life without any satisfactory explanation as to how they may aid my mere survival. His confession that humanists “believe” (his word) that “nothing exists beyond the empirical realm” merely demonstrates a mind that is closed a priori to considering the abundant evidence to the contrary. – Yours, etc,



Co Derry.

Sir, – Thanks to David McConnell for a comprehensive and thoughtful contribution to the debate on belief. While I applaud all of the points he makes, the most important for me is his assertion that it is not fair for those who believe in God to insist that this belief should intrude into the lives of those who do not.

This is at the core of the difficulties we have experienced here in Ireland for very many years. Non-believers can live with the religiously denominated holidays and the inclusion of religion in the language (nobody has any difficulty with naming certain days of the week after ancient Norse and Germanic gods, after all), but as long as we have religious discrimination in our state-run, taxpayer-funded schools and as long as reproductive medicine continues to be influenced by religious precepts that make no sense to those who simply cannot come to believe in any supernatural explanations for the phenomena that we see around us, we will continue, as a nation, to serve up injustice. – Yours, etc,


Windy Arbour,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Further to the news item “Belvedere past pupils join ‘Rockmen’ in admissions battle” (October 11th), if Belvedere and Blackrock College wish to preserve their distinctive ethos, reserving places for the children of former alumni, they will remain free to do so even under the new legislation. All they have to do is stop taking public money. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The new “In brief…” section of the online letters page is a welcome addition. If only more people would take the time to write shorter letters. – Yours, etc,


Adamstown, Co Dublin.

Facing the music

Sir, – Frank McCartan (October 11th) has highlighted an annoying trend of loud music in all aspects of the hospitality industry. It reminded me of a concierge in a Las Vegas hotel who laughingly answered my question “Where can I go for a quiet drink?” with the reply “Not in this town”. Perhaps Las Vegas has spread beyond the hills of Donegal! – Yours, etc,



Roy Keane’s autobiography

Sir, – Diarmaid Ferriter reckons Martin O’Neill “should dump Roy Keane as soon as possible” (Opinion & Analysis, October 11th). I’m sure that Prof Ferriter was delighted to see that, after his shave, there was less of the hair apparent about Roy. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Sir, – In your online reports following the Gibraltar match there was not one mention of whatshisname.

That’s what I call a result. – Yours, etc,



Co Down.

Figures of note

Sir, – It’s all very well having the likes of Julius Caesar, Joyce and Yeats on the euro notes (October 13th) but with the current standing of the currency, perhaps Charles Dickens’s Mr Micawber would be more apposite. He was financially feckless yet forever optimistic, always believing something would turn up. – Yours, etc,




Vegetarianism and veganism

Sir, – Further to recent correspondence, veganism is not yet universally recognised.

A young woman was at a dinner in a Dublin hotel on Saturday evening and had rung the hotel beforehand for an appropriate Vegan menu. At the dinner, when the waiter approached her table for her order, she said “I’m vegan”, to which he replied “Oh, hi! I’m Sean”. – Yours, etc,


Killiney, Co Dublin.

Water meters

Sir, – In Tim O’Brien’s article of October 10th (“Some householders having trouble reading water meters”), Irish Water is quoted as saying: “By reading the cubic meter reading, your reader will get an accurate reading of his water consumption”.

From this, I understand that when Irish Water asks me to provide my PPS number, I can respond that it is a long number with a letter at the end. This answer will be completely accurate. Perhaps not very precise though. – Yours, etc,



Irish Independent:

I suspect that Pope Francis must be aware of the incongruity of holding an all-male gathering to discuss family life, even if there are some lay delegates to the current synod, giving women some peripheral voice in the proceedings. This is the strange world that the Pope has inherited and I trust him to bring reason and justice to bear on it.

The Pope is focusing not on particular teachings, but on the more pressing general issue about how the Catholic Church reaches conclusions about belief and moral practice. His call to the cardinals to come down from their ivory towers to experience the actual lives of the people they purport to lead is well placed, showing that he is more concerned with learning than with teaching.

This Pope seems determined to focus not so much on obedience to the Catholic Church’s teaching, but on the exercise of individual human responsibility. He has pleaded for a more critical fidelity, urging the cardinals to speak their minds, not to think like sheep and follow the flock.

The suggestion by some that the Catholic Church should not be a democratic institution, as the majority may be wrong, seems somewhat disingenuous and music to the ears of today’s dictators. Even conclusions about morality are not fixed for all time; otherwise we would still be supporting the practice of slavery. Our lives are informed by thoughtful reflection, not by sets of commands which we must obey. Obedience is not a virtue and can never trump human judgement.

The Pope is hampered by a church persistently identified with an over-emphasis on sexual behaviour. Though how we actually live our lives does not determine how we ought to live them, it is a significant reference point in moral debate. Pope Francis acknowledges this.

There is change afoot that challenges some and threatens others. I am reminded of John Henry Newman’s suggestion that to live is to change, to be perfect is to have changed often.

Philip O’Neill, Oxford, England


Rabbitte in a trap of his design

I would like to express my gratitude to Pat Rabbitte.

There is sea change taking place in Irish politics. The two-and-a-half party system that has dominated Irish politics since the foundation of the State is being dismantled, one election at a time. Such drastic change can sometimes be scary and some people may feel the need to fall back on the ‘old reliables’ of Irish politics.

Enter Pat Rabbitte. In an interview over the weekend, Mr Rabbitte lamented the rise of Independent politicians, dismissed them as “populist” and expressed his “fear” for the future of Irish politics. That’s right, despite the fact that the current party system has led us to ruin on more than one occasion, Mr Rabbitte fears the fact that the Irish people have chosen to elect politicians who don’t have to cow down to a party whip.

He also does not give himself enough credit for the role that he and his party have played in the surge in support for independent politicians. After all, in their 2011 general election campaign, the Labour Party opposed water charges. They also signed a “pledge” not to increase third-level fees. On the basis of these and many other promises made by the Labour Party (one need only look at the ‘Tesco ad poster’) the Irish people gave them a record number of TDs. Once they were in power, however, Mr Rabbitte and his colleagues swiftly and cynically set about breaking most of their campaign promises.

The Irish electorate have finally woken up to the manner in which the main political parties operate and they are choosing a new way of doing politics. It is this that Mr Rabbitte fears. He fears that in the future his party (should it survive the next election) and the other main parties will no longer be able to ‘tell people what they want to hear’ and saunter into power. With the Dail heavily populated with independents, the party whip system will no longer have control.

The bitterness and disrespect with which he speaks about the democratic choice of the Irish people is music to my ears. I hope the lesson is not lost on the rest of the TDs that put their party and their ideology before their country.

Simon O’Connor, Crumlin, Dublin 12


Dail could confound Da Vinci

“There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see,” said Leonardo da Vinci.

The above quote is from one of the greatest minds to ever walk the Earth. Yet, despite the man’s undoubted genius across a wide range of subjects, time dealt him a cruel blow when he came up with that particular piece of wisdom.

You see he didn’t have the pleasure of observing Dail Eireann, where a whole new class of individual seems to have evolved on a rich diet of ignorance, cronyism and the ancient Irish art of duckin’ and divin’.

Da Vinci grew up in an Italy that was a collection of city states, many of them ruled by powerful families.

They did not have a history of having Flurry Knox type characters from ‘The Irish RM’. That gombeen who thought that by keeping in with the rich lad in the locality he made himself somehow important and somehow smarter than the guy that was cleaning out his neighbours.

Indeed, such was the cognitive dissonance of this type of evolved “Gobs***e” he could not see even if shown or told. Therefore a new, separate type must be added to Mr Da Vinci’s classification – those who will never see!

If you don’t believe me then I will offer the following proof.

The function, nay, the raison d’etre of Dail Eireann is to improve society. The inhabitants of Dail Eireann continuously tell us that we are broke, that the books aren’t balancing and that now a budget will be produced that will agree to a foreign power’s version of what our worth is. A foreign power that is now itself broke after it has cleaned out most of the EU.

I am not referring directly to any nation state, but rather a policy born in one that sees it deliverers making rakes of money while their citizens and former friends are thrown to the harsh winds of austerity.

Dermot Ryan, Athenry, Co. Galway


The people have spoken

The recent by-elections in Roscommon and Dublin South West proved three things.

1. Luke “Ming” Flanagan has wings and coattails.

2. Water charges do not win hearts and minds or votes.

3. Austerity is no longer just an anti-establishment rant.

Kevin Devitte, Westport, Co Mayo


Democracy must be defended

I have just heard an independent TD on radio declare democracy in this country to be just “a charade”. This is a democratic republic, set up after nearly 800 years of colonial rule, in which all have the right to elect those that represent us in the Dail.

Yet the declaration that this democracy is “a charade” was unchallenged by the interviewer.

At a time when two independent TDs were elected to the Dail I hope that they have more appreciation of the privilege each of them enjoyed when they were elected to represent the rest of us in this democracy.

I also hope that they do not regard their election as “a charade”.

In addition our media should show more appreciation of the privileged position they hold. They should do that by challenging any attempt to demean the freedoms both the media themselves and the rest of us enjoy in this democracy.

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin

Irish Independent

Garage roof

October 13, 2014

13 October 2014 Garage Roof

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I tidy up the garage roof and cut down isabella rose for Mary.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Ben Whitaker – obituary

Ben Whitaker was an Old Etonian Labour MP who was a key figure on the ‘trendy’ intellectual Left

Ben Whitaker, pictured when he was Labour MP for Hampstead

Ben Whitaker, pictured when he was Labour MP for Hampstead Photo: Camera Press

6:04PM BST 12 Oct 2014


Ben Whitaker, who has died aged 79, personified the liberal intelligentsia of the 1960s as the first Labour MP for Hampstead, a constituency “full of argumentative idealists like myself”. Chosen by Left-wingers who were unaware that he was a baronet’s son and an Old Etonian, Whitaker scored a symbolic coup in 1966 by unseating the former Conservative home secretary Henry Brooke .

Whitaker, whose constituents included 30 Labour MPs, was a bellwether for the intellectual Left, and The Daily Telegraph’s Peter Simple column mocked him for a trendy and ruinous liberalism.

Throughout his life Whitaker campaigned for more recognition of George Orwell, an idol of his; he secured a blue plaque outside the Hampstead book shop where Orwell wrote Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and lived to see the BBC commission a statue from Martin Jennings.

Benjamin Charles George Whitaker was born on September 15 1934, the third son of Maj-Gen Sir John Whitaker, 2nd Bt, of Babworth Hall, Nottinghamshire. After Eton and National Service with the Coldstream Guards, he read Modern History at New College, Oxford.

Whitaker worked in Sicily for the reforming anti-Mafia campaigner Danilo Dolci, then in 1959 was called to the Bar at Inner Temple. He lectured in Law at London University, and became one of Britain’s first human rights barristers.

Angered by the “framing” of Stephen Ward during the Profumo affair, and by the so-called “rhino whip scandal”, which resulted in the dismissal of the chief constable of Sheffield, in 1964 Whitaker published The Police, in which he criticised the service’s resistance to change. He noted, for example, that 84 US police forces had computers, but Scotland Yard had none.

In 1965 Whitaker went to Rhodesia, his pregnant wife hiding leaflets attacking UDI in her dress. He penetrated one of Ian Smith’s detention camps, then went on the radio condemning “an illegal police state afraid of the truth”. Police raided the studio, and he had to make a swift exit.

He went into the 1966 campaign at Hampstead wishing Brooke a “happy retirement”; his election address mentioned his studies at Oxford and Harvard, but omitted Eton. He won with a majority of 2,253.

Anthony Greenwood, the minister of overseas development, appointed Whitaker his PPS, and when Greenwood moved to Housing and Local Government, Whitaker went with him. He resigned in March 1967 when he rebelled over the Defence Estimates.

Whitaker campaigned for an independent body to investigate complaints against lawyers; for action against those responsible for the Zinoviev letter after proof emerged that it was forged; and for a crackdown on “murky” insurance companies .

He embarrassed ministers by asking whether the visiting Sultan of Lahej had brought a slave with him to Britain, and upset Denis Healey, the defence secretary, by probing the Army’s allocation of a valet to the Duke of Kent.

His chances of office seemed to have gone when he spoke against James Callaghan’s Bill voting down boundary changes that would have favoured the Conservatives. But weeks later Wilson appointed him to the Overseas Development Ministry under Judith Hart. Taking six hours a day to get through his boxes, he enrolled in a speed-reading course.

In June 1970 Whitaker lost his seat to the Conservative Geoffrey Finsberg by 474 votes after a recount. He became director of the Minority Rights Group, for 17 years highlighting communities being destroyed by their governments or multinational companies. An early report exposed the plight of Biharis in Bangladesh (the Whitakers adopted a four-month-old Bihari boy).

Whitaker went on to spend 10 years as UK director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, dispensing £2 million a year. The Labour government appointed him to a UN subcommittee on minority rights, and as its vice-chairman he was asked in 1985 to investigate whether Turkey had committed genocide against the Armenians in 1915. He embarrassed the Foreign Office by concluding that it had.

From 1976 he chaired the Defence of Literature and Arts Society . He was appointed CBE in 2000.

Ben Whitaker married, in 1964, Janet Stewart, now Baroness Whitaker of Beeston. She survives him, with their two sons (one adopted), their daughter, and his son from a previous relationship.

Ben Whitaker, born September 15 1934, died June 8 2014


Adam Smith ‘Even the Tories’ favourite economist, Adam Smith, denounced the size, nature and privileges associated with corporations, and we should heed what he said’. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The influence and control enjoyed by corporations over the body politic (Our bullying corporations are the new enemy within, 8 October) is an inevitable consequence of the 1844 Joint Stock Companies Act, a piece of legislation effectively marking the birth of modern capitalism. Followed by the Limited Liability Act of 1855, it established that the fiduciary duty of a director is to act in good faith for the benefit of the company as a whole, ie all shareholders. In practice, this means that what is referred to as the shareholder primacy norm obliges companies to maximise their profits without regard to other considerations. So claims by companies that they are driven by values enshrined in concepts of corporate social responsibility or fair trade should be seen for what they are – public relations exercises designed to attract custom that will ultimately enhance their bottom line.

Even the Tories’ favourite economist, Adam Smith, denounced the size, nature and privileges associated with corporations, and we should heed what he said. Nothing less than a dismantling and revision of the legal framework underpinning private enterprise will serve to alleviate the exploitation, abuses and environmental degradation that it brings but, as Mr Monbiot says, the political class and our so-called democracy is part of the problem rather than the solution. And if charities are too frightened or compromised to challenge this iniquitous system, it falls to other popular organisations like trade unions to oppose its worst manifestations such as the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a deal that would give the transnational corporations unprecedented power to run the global economy for the further enrichment of their institutional shareholders at our expense.
Bert Schouwenburg
International officer, GMB

• George Monbiot is depressingly correct, but why is he surprised by the pro-business reassurances of certain charities such as Oxfam? Oxfam has always openly pushed for economically liberal pro-free-trade policies in the countries it is committed to help. Oxfam, as opposed to smaller charities or more politically aware ones such as War on Want, actually is a big “business” paying very large salaries out of public donations to its top management tier.
Françoise Murray

• I found Aditya Chakrabortty’s critique of “corporate welfare” (Cut benefits? Yes, let’s start with our £85bn corporate welfare handout, 7 October) illuminating; £85bn is a staggering amount of money. However, as with the social benefits arising from social security, so can there be economic benefits from aids to business. For six years I was responsible for an EU scheme of assistance for small and medium-sized businesses that generated additional sales of £24 for every £1 of EU grants. As the business owners signed off on these numbers, I had a 90% confidence factor in them. The issue is to ensure that the scheme provides good-quality outcomes, ie provable sales increases rather than, say, quantity of contacts. For example, too much money is spent on export services to businesses that make no discernible impact on the balance of trade (but export trips to warm climes in winter are very popular). More focused schemes would cut the cost but raise the outcome. We should all regret the award of public money to companies that pay the minimum wage, have zero-hours contracts and don’t pay taxes.
Bob Nicholson
Frodsham, Cheshire

• What Aditya Chakrabortty calls “corporate welfare” is integral to what the US political scientist Philip Bobbitt in 2002 called “the new market-state”, which is characterised by a state-subsidised public sector that is dominant over a semi-privatised state sector. One consequence of this is that, while politicians may promise more “public spending”, eg on the NHS or education, increasing tranches of this go straight into the pockets of private investors, like the egregious Richard Branson and his Virgin Care.
Patrick Ainley
University of Greenwich

• Recent articles by Zoe Williams, Larry Elliott, Aditya Chakrabortty and George Monbiot offer an alternative to the corporate lobby-driven policies all three major parties are peddling. These aren’t “business-friendly” policies. They are “elite-friendly” policies. It isn’t a “free market”, it is “a state-endorsed oligarchy”, as Monbiot puts it, returning to the subject of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which he so devastating exposed almost a year ago. If Labour cannot see this then what hope do they think they have to claim to speak as the voice of the 99%? Ignore the Lords Levy and Noon and listen instead to some sane advice from the Guardian. Larry Elliott (Talk is cheap, but tackling inequality requires action, 6 October) wrote that policymakers must be “prepared to redistribute resources from rich to poor”, create “an international tax system that prevents revenues being salted away in tax havens”, ensure “that trade agreements are not written by multinational corporations”, strengthen “welfare safety nets and the rights of workers” and recognise “that both the private and the public sectors have a role”. Not a bad manifesto. Stand up to the bullies, Ed. Join the “struggle over what remains of our democracy”. You might just regain some credibility.
John Airs

Ed Miliband, Liz McInnes canvassing in Heywood and Middleton Ed Miliband canvassing in the Heywood and Middleton byelection, with Liz McInnes, right. She later won the previously safe Labour seat but Ukip came a close second. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

Anxieties about the need to “come out” against immigration erupt in Labour electoral politics on a regular basis (How main parties became the strangers in Farageland, 11 October). Fears about parties like Ukip aren’t new. Labour’s failing has been its inability or unwillingness to build an internationalist politics. Its current “one nation” attitude does nothing to help people see how lives connect across continents and oceans; the histories and continuities of exploitation between countries; and the contingency of national identifications. If only an accident of birth makes us British, Indian or Nigerian, why should so much political weight be given to these attachments?

People, however, don’t acquire an internationalist perspective simply through being told to. Digging in and adopting a parochial sensibility has causes, some of which Labour could address. Too often the party leadership ends up moulding itself around the socially conservative effects of stressful, precarious lives. They would do better to address some of the contributing factors. A radical programme to tackle economic and social inequalities, along with the relentlessly dismissive ways that people without resources are often treated, might produce a more generous society. It might also produce a more engaged and vibrant politics.
Professor Davina Cooper
Kent Law School, University of Kent

• Nigel Farage’s policy of banning migrants with HIV (Report, 10 October) not only stigmatises 100,000 men and women in Britain living with the virus, it is also dangerously counterproductive.

Around the world there are an estimated 35 million living with HIV. Of these, half have not been diagnosed. That may be because, as we are seeing with the Ebola crisis, some health systems are underfinanced and inadequate. But it is also because there are formidable barriers to testing. For example, gay men are unlikely to volunteer if they risk prosecution, as they do in so many countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Mr Farage now wants to build a massive new barrier in Britain, where already up to a quarter of those living with HIV are undiagnosed. When every sensible worker in the field wants to encourage more testing, he pursues a policy that can only have the opposite effect.

Back in 1986 the Thatcher government rejected such checks. Instead, as health secretary, I was able to mount a public education campaign, which among other things made the point that “you cannot get the Aids virus from normal social contact with someone who is infected”.

Perhaps we should consider how today we can set out the facts and not allow the unscrupulous to play on public fears.
Norman Fowler
Conservative, House of Lords


Labour MPs are queuing up to lambast Ed Miliband’s strategy of appealing to his “core vote” (report, 11 October), but I see little evidence that he is doing this. I consider myself a core voter – someone who was brought up in a working-class home, and has almost always voted for Labour, save after the Iraq War, and the last election, when, with two children about to start university, I voted Lib Dem, (what a mistake that was!). Where is there any pledge to re-nationalise water, at least, if not gas, electricity and the Post Office? Where is there a commitment to build council houses? What about stopping the free schools policy? These are things I’d vote for.

Robert Carlin

London W10

How terribly sad, Labour just manages to win a by-election in a supposedly safe Labour seat. The next headline outlining future Labour policy is not about the economy, deficit or lifting the poor out of poverty. It is from the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, who, after visiting Singapore on a “fact-finding trip”, imagines that the way to improve teaching is to make teachers take an oath to emphasise the “moral calling and noble profession of teaching”.

How utterly disconnected from the real world that teachers live in, and how insulting to think that thousands of teachers need to take an oath to remind themselves why they are teachers.

I greatly fear that Ukip will do well next year because politicians have allowed the impression to be formed that they have absolutely no idea about the lives of the people they hope to represent. This idea from Tristram Hunt totally encapsulates why this opinion has been formed.

Some advice to Tristram; go into classrooms, teach Year 11 mathematics on Friday afternoon. Don’t just listen or find out about education – go and do it.

Brian Dalton


Your front-page article on 11 October “Miliband pays the price for Ukip surge” referred to disparaging comments made by senior Labour politicians, including Jack Straw, about the Labour leader. It stated that Straw “referred to Mr Miliband as having “panda eyes and strange lips”.

The article continued on page 6 where Straw’s words were quoted in context, giving the lie to the front page: “Mr Straw said Mr Miliband had leadership qualities and had united his party… I know people say he’s got panda eyes and strange lips. Well, I could make the same remark in different ways about Mr Clegg or Mr Cameron.”

Come on, Independent, this sort of misleading reporting is unworthy of you.

Deirdre Myers


Voters, unable to discern any real difference between Labour and Tory policies, are turning to something new. The shadow cabinet could not possibly countenance a total embargo on NHS privatisation (after all, they are ones who started it), soaking the rich (rather than feeling “relaxed” about them), a substantial hike in a statutory living wage, abandonment of Trident, diverting the money to investment in a green economy and welfare benefit payments, re-nationalisation of the railways and electoral reform. The message to Miliband from Heywood and Middleton should be interpreted as “Go left, young man.”

Colin Yardley

Chislehurst, Greater London

It should be obvious that Labour’s strategy of adopting Conservative policies but arguing they would do it better is ineffective. Those of us who want a fairer society have nowhere to go.

What we want is for the large US corporations and those on higher incomes to pay their fair share. So, increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour, abolish tax credits, reduce VAT to 15 per cent and introduce a 5 per cent sales tax.

The most important thing, though, is that Labour policies be different to Tory policies; otherwise Ukip is the only viable option.

Malcolm Howard

Banstead, Surrey

Palestinian statehood must be recognised

My maternal grandfather, Herbert Bentwich, was one of the earliest English Jews to support Zionism and was one of Theodor Herzl’s colleagues in campaigning for the Balfour Declaration. Six of his 11 children settled in Palestine and so most of my cousins are Israelis. My uncle Norman, his oldest son, was attorney-general in Mandatory Palestine and one of the founders of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he was professor of international relations. But Norman (who died in 1971) was critical of the way Israel developed, not least its discriminatory policies towards the Palestinians and would have fully supported the long-overdue moves to recognise the state of Palestine.

What I find unconscionable is the hypocrisy of President Obama who recently told the UN General Assembly that he supported the two-state principle, yet still buckles under the “powerful Israeli lobby” of which our diplomats speak in their letter (10 October) and obdurately denies American recognition of Palestine.

This, despite the fact that the US constitution gives the president exclusive authority to recognise foreign governments – President Truman exercised it when recognising Israel in 1948.

Benedict Birnberg

London SE3

Though it’s been the wait of a lifetime, it will still be a source of pride, both as a citizen and as a Jew, if Parliament recognizes Palestine. But why on earth has Ed Miliband (11 October) made this anything other than a free vote?

Isn’t it obvious that this is one of those issues of conscience with opposing views within each party? The sense of turning a corner will be less if the vote is coerced, and the message to the Middle East weaker because it is less authentic.

Andrew Shacknove


Conservative MP Guto Bebb opposes British recognition of Palestinian statehood, asking “How can you recognise a state when the borders of that state have not been agreed?” Given that Israel’s borders remain undefined, I take it that in the interests of consistency he will also be pushing to withdraw British recognition of Israel?

Dan Glazebrook


The NHS has kept me on my feet

Congratulations on the excellent coverage of the NHS crisis during the past week. I think you need to be old like me (born in 1936) to really appreciate the value of our NHS. Nye Bevan’s introduction of this service in 1946 was inspirational and although nothing is ever perfect in this life, we have such a lot to thank him for and continue to thank all those now serving in the NHS.

Had I been born today, my shallow pelvis and malformed left foot would have been picked up at birth and treated at much less cost to the NHS than has since been spent on me. I can only thank all those concerned over the years for keeping me walking and I can honestly say that I am walking better now than ever before – all due to the skill of the surgeons at my local Great Western Hospital in Swindon.

Of course there are mistakes, every large institution has them, but I know where I would rather be when I need health care.

Jan Huntingdon

Cricklade, Wiltshire

The NHS is the most important institution in this country and it is important to every single one of us. So, if it requires more funding the answer to the question “where will the money come from?” is obvious – we must all pay more tax.

The fairest way of raising this tax is from income tax. A penny on the basic rate of 20p in the pound would not hurt anyone who is currently paying tax. After all, I remember when the basic rate was 24p in the pound and if I go back further, even 25p.

Such an increase would raise around £7.5bn which, in addition to the normal annual increase in funding, would make a significant difference to the NHS coffers.

The big question is will any of the parties have the courage to put this in their manifesto? The first party to do so gets my vote.

Iain Smith

Rugby, Warwickshire


I don’t know which hospitals June Green visits, (letter, 11 October) but all the ones with which I am familiar already have boxes to put money in, and usually more than the £2 she suggests. They are on metal posts in the car parks.

Mike Perry

Ickenham, Middlesex

Malala – a worthy winner of Nobel prize

I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize than Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai (report, 11 October). The beauty of Malala is her youthful idealism and untainted sincerity.

As a Muslim she offers an enlightened alternative to the fanaticism that so dominates our perception of her co-religionists. As a schoolgirl she reminds us that education is precious and should not be taken for granted. In her Panorama interview she said: “Education is neither eastern nor western, education is education and it’s the right of every human being.”  The wisdom of this courageous child gives us all hope.

Stan Labovitch



Sir, Can our non-Ukip politicians not understand that others may have different views to themselves? That immigration is far more important than they believe it is? Voters do not seek to be educated in what their rulers believe is best for them — they want representative democracy.
R Bullen
Beachley, Chepstow

Sir, It is childish for David Cameron to say little more than “a vote for Ukip will let in Ed Miliband”. The Heywood and Middleton by-election showed that Ukip is the main opposition to Labour in many constituencies in the north. There, it is a vote for the Conservatives that will let in Labour.
John Kilclooney
Mullinure, Armagh City

Sir, Contrast Nigel Farage’s easy approach to the media with dour Miliband and condescending Cameron. For most voters, his policies are secondary to his persona and politics is in danger of becoming a celebrity-fest. The Ukip bandwagon could become more popular than The X Factor.
Terry Moran

Sir, Matthew Parris gives himself away by saying “We know [the voters] are wrong,” when referring to the Clacton by-election (Opinion, Oct 11). A man who thinks that an electorate is wrong when it makes a decision that he does not like cannot have much respect for democracy. Ukip is winning because voters think it tells the truth while other politicians continue to try to be all things to all men and avoid the hard questions.
David Williams
Horsham, Sussex

Mr Parris said politicians “know what to do” and quoted Jean-Claude Juncker: “They just don’t know how to get re-elected when they have done it.” The major parties have shielded the comfortable pensioners, homeowners, landlords and property speculators — in short those more likely to vote — from the effects of the 2008 crash, leaving those on low and middle incomes, mostly living in rented property or unable to buy, to carry the burden. Politicians know what to do: cap rents and reduce the value of property. But that is what not to do to get elected.
The Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

Sir, Mr Parris says that today’s politicians are the best ever; they are certainly very good at ignoring what voters want.
Alan Stephens
Lindfield, W Sussex

Sir, I support David Cameron’s dismissal of a Conservative pact with Ukip. I would have been forced to turn to the Lib Dems.
Susan Paine
Surbiton, Surrey

Sir, It is time for David Cameron to stand up to his backbenchers. When he promoted centralist one-nation Toryism I thought that at last Tories were losing “the nasty party” tag, but it is fast returning with tax cuts for the better-off and benefit cuts for the poor.
Valerie Crews
Beckenham Kent

Sir, Messrs Cameron and Miliband should learn from last week’s polls that Mondeo man no longer lives in working-class constituencies. His place has been taken by minimum-wage man, who is fed up with working hard and being rewarded with a subsistence standard of living.
David Burbridge

Sir, We don’t know whether Clacton people voted loyally for Douglas Carswell as their sitting MP or because he is now a member of Ukip. We should not let Farage’s blustering convince us that he is a major figure in British politics.
John Rogers
Camberley, Surrey

Sir, Like so many former Lib Dem voters, I shall never believe Nick Clegg again. But Philip Collins (Opinion, Oct 10) takes the biscuit. He tells us that at the tender age of 8 years old he went on a trip from Heywood to Clacton and remembers thinking at the time: “When there are simultaneous by-elections in these constituencies, I’ll get a column out of this.” Even the prophet Isaiah wouldn’t go that far.
CC Storer
Parkgate, Wirral

Having awoken to see Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell posing for a selfie (Oct 10), I am mourning the passing of Spitting Image.
Sally Hinde
Bury, Lancs

Sir, Rob Matthews says he is unable to understand management consultancy (letter, Oct 10). It’s simple: management consultancy is common sense overlaid with gobbledegook. The gobbledegook comes in various layers of opacity. The fee is in direct proportion to the opacity and size of the ensuing report.
John Gardner

Sir, Having been taught about the zeugma, “Mr Pickwick took his hat and his leave”, at Skegness Grammar School in 1960, it has taken me until today to spot one. “Keira Knightley enters the fray as Joan Clarke, with a blue velvet hat and a double first in mathematics”, (review of The Imitation Game, Oct 8). As to whether this is a zeugma type 1, 2, 3, 4, a diazeugma, a hypozeugma, a prozeugma or a mesozeugma, I remain as confused as I was in 1960.
John Clark
Keelby, Grimsby

Sir, The Care Quality Commission is in an impossible position (letters, Oct 8). About one fifth of care homes are below standard and should be improved or closed. The CQC knows this but it would take a far braver regulator to act decisively and with the aggression needed. Compare this with Ofsted’s position within the nursery sector. For all its foibles, it’s a good regulator with teeth. It can afford to be tough — only five per cent of nurseries are in the “very bad” category. However, until eldercare is as well funded as childcare, no care home regulator will ever get it right.
Ben Black
My Family Care, London SW6


Britain is currently expected to miss the government’s export target of £1 trillion by 2020 Photo: Bloomberg News

6:56AM BST 12 Oct 2014


SIR – Scott Barnes is right to argue that Britain’s medium-sized businesses need help when looking to export.

A fear of failure is a constant constraint even on reasonably ambitious companies. We need to provide more incentives to businesses looking to trade overseas.

Exploring these options surely amounts to research and product development, and if treated in the same way for tax purposes would mean that there would be less for a potential exporter to lose and, crucially, more to gain.

Similar incentives are offered by our competitors. We are currently expected to miss the government’s export target of £1 trillion by 2020. If we are to come close to hitting it, measures like this would be a great help.

Stephen Ibbotson
Director of Business, The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
London EC2

Newmark’s morals

SIR – Why shouldn’t we judge a public figure such as Brooks Newmark, the MP for Braintree, by his legitimate private conductin the 21st Century (Letters, October 5)? He has betrayed his wife, his children and his constituents by shattering their expectations of an honourable member of parliament.

If he had been a member of Richard III’s 15th-century parliament he would have been found guilty of moral turpitude. Why should we not have great expectations for today’s salaried MPs, instead of condoning their foolish actions?

Harry Santiuste
Edenthorpe, West Yorkshire

A stunt too far

SIR – Young men from both Britain and Argentina gave their lives during the Falklands War, so the recent Top Gear debacle, which could only have caused distress to those who live with the loss of loved ones, is unacceptable.

We live in a fractured world which needs mending, and I just hope the people of Argentina do not associate such juvenile antics with the people of Britain.

Gerry Doyle

Alone in a crowd

SIR – My daughter was recently waiting for a lift to school, and when it failed to materialise she walked, arriving five minutes late. The school has a new rule which states that any pupils who are late will have to spend lunchtime in “isolation”.

On being asked how it was, she replied: “It was packed.”

Stephen Blanchard
London SE26

A family handout photograph of Alan Henning with an unidentified child. The undated image was taken at a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border 

6:57AM BST 12 Oct 2014


SIR – Dr Shameela Islam-Zulfiqar is heavily critical of the Government for failing to secure Alan Henning’s release and says that by joining the US air strikes we “handed Alan and many other Western hostages a death sentence”. This is disingenuous and so far from the truth that it would, in different circumstances, be laughable.

The gang of murderers which is currently violating the freedoms, health and lives of untold numbers of people in Iraq and Syria has no regard for pleas for clemency on any grounds or for any standards of normal human behaviour. The responsibility for Mr Henning’s tragic murder lies squarely on their shoulders.

To blame the British Government for Mr Henning’s death is typical of the rationale of those who try to justify this sort of barbaric behaviour or to explain it away as a response to provocation. It is shameful.

Fred Hudson
Burnley, Lancashire

SIR – As an ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust, I am deeply concerned that the Government is not doing enough to prevent the growing prejudice against Muslims in Britain, which is increasingly alienating the British Muslim population.

Understanding and dialogue between this community and the rest of the British public are breaking down, particularly among the working class.

Although I too am horrified by the acts of Isil, I am equally horrified by the response on social media, where racism is flourishing, and by the increase in hate crimes against Muslims.

Ironically, this is likely to encourage further radicalisation and extremism among British Muslims.

In its efforts to combat Islamic extremism, the Government is ignoring incitement of hatred against Muslims. More than 28,000 pieces of “terrorist material” have been removed from the internet this year. The same should be done with racist, anti-Muslim material.

Rebecca Wilkinson
London NW1

Privacy at what cost?

SIR – Your report US threat to British online privacy highlights a dilemma.

The concept of privacy is the antithesis of a culture of openness and transparency, and the advocates of one should address the concerns of the proponents of the other. But some of those who would prefer privacy and secrecy might not be too concerned about free speech and other democratic values.

If encryption of data becomes the norm, personal privacy might be enhanced, but personal as well as collective safety and security will be degraded.

George Herrick
Pendleton, Salford

SIR – The attack on JP Morgan Chase’s customer information compromised the contact details of over 76 million homes.

The security of data is of critical importance to any business, especially the banks that hold our private contact and banking information. So why do we still see so many reports of security breaches?

As the skills of cyber criminals develop, it is becoming glaringly apparent that a simple password is no longer a strong enough security measure to protect a system, particularly if users are accessing data from their mobile phones and personal devices.

Organisations need to use stronger authentication methods and they must perform risk analysis. Fingerprinting and analysing the behaviour of users can provide more in-depth verification of an individual, without negatively affecting the user experience.

In order to maintain consumer trust it is essential that organisations take action.

Keith Graham
Irvine, California, United States

Charity funding

SIR – While I am concerned to hear that Kids Company is running out of money, I do not share your correspondent’s belief that the blame lies with a lack of funding from central government.

It is not the government’s role to fund charities.

Jonathan Robson
Sherborne, Dorset

Bang out of order

SIR – This year Londoners will be charged to watch the New Year’s Eve firework display over the Thames. This is apparently because the event is too big and the cost of stewarding too much.

What a load of tosh!

If it has grown too popular, by all means ticket the event, by lottery if necessary, but it is totally wrong to charge Londoners to attend an event they have already paid for.

How much does it really cost to issue an e-ticket? As for stewarding, we have a police force which is tasked with keeping public order and this event is held in a public place.

George Curley
London N7

Begging your pardon

SIR – Glenda Cooper makes the excellent point that one of the strengths of Received Pronunciation was “clarity and the grammatical precision that usually accompanied it”.

Grammatical errors are increasingly common among broadcasters, regardless of accent, and odd phrasing hinders comprehension further.

Am I just a grumpy former teacher of speech and drama or do others feel the same?

Kate Forrester
Malvern, Worcestershire

SIR – I was born in Durham, educated in a boarding school in Wolverhampton, married an RAF officer and have lived in Aden, Germany and several counties in England.

I think my voice is accentless but I sometimes find myself adopting the accent of the person I am talking to. I hope these people do not think I am being rude.

Yvonne Allison
Scotby, Cumbria

Cake mania: The Great British Bake Off finalists Luis, Nancy and Richard present their “showstopper” cakes  Photo: AFP/Getty Images

6:58AM BST 12 Oct 2014


SIR – Dr Linda Blair’s article about the psychological benefits of baking can only be described as misguided in this age of obesity.

It is very worrying to read that programmes like The Great British Bake Off are encouraging people to produce, and subsequently eat, cakes which require large quantities of sugar and butter.

May I suggest that the nation would be much better served by a programme like The Superb Soup Kitchen. The variety of healthy soups which can be produced from the amazing selection of fresh vegetables now available all year round is endless. This would give the cook just as much satisfaction and just as great a feeling of psychological well-being as baking a cake would.

June Stewart
Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway

Nichole Leggett and Carol Mills pose for a selfie with UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell in Clacton Photo: Nichole Leggett

7:00AM BST 12 Oct 2014


SIR – At the end of the party conference season, having witnessed purringly positive Cameron, negative Clegg, forgetful Miliband and sparky Farage, is it any wonder the electorate has blown a fuse and short-circuited British politics? The Clacton by-election result says it all.

The main political parties need to reconnect with voters who live outside the Westminster bubble, rather than try to dazzle us with elaborate smoke and mirrors. May 2015 is looming.

Patrick Tracey
Carlisle, Cumberland

SIR – “The British public looks with frustration upon the meddling of European institutions”. It’s also another reason why they vote Ukip.

Ken Culley
Marlborough, Wiltshire

SIR – Following Ukip’s victory in the Clacton by-election, the Tory party must now focus on building support for the forthcoming general election.

Two matters will be vital. First, HS2 should be deferred. This proposal only won Labour’s support because of the certainty that Tory seats would be lost. The funds would be better spent on existing rail services and facilities, including free car parking for commuters.

Secondly, if Better Together is to mean anything to those in Scotland, the Government must ensure Holyrood has dedicated funds and an agreed timetable to fully upgrade the A9 as far as the Dornoch bridge and the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen. This would provide tangible evidence that together really is better.

Ian Nalder

SIR – Upon leaving the Conservative Party and joining Ukip, Douglas Carswell said that the people of Britain thought the three main parties were all the same and did not deliver on their promises. He was right.

But he should have added that they are not in fact able to deliver. The larger problems facing the country – the economy, immigration, demands on the NHS, the benefits budget and constitutional matters – are not open to clear solutions, only to the management of one problem after another.

Ukip believes it has clear solutions to these issues. This is a delusion.

David Damant
Bath, Somerset

SIR – Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless were right to move to Ukip if they thought that this would give them a better chance of putting their political views into effect.

They were also right to resign from the House of Commons to fight by-elections under their new party colours, but this does risk establishing a convention whereby MPs who change parties or are expelled from them must do the same.

There is a delicate balance of power between party leaderships, MPs, and the people. Such a convention would strengthen the power of the party leaderships over MPs, which is not in the public interest.

J A Smith
Epping, Essex

SIR – How much does it cost taxpayers to fund by-elections in constituencies that will cast votes as part of the general election only months later?

Prospective Ukip MPs have no qualms about spending taxpayers’ money to fund Nigel Farage’s publicity machine.

Graham Buckley
Denby Dale, West Yorkshire

SIR – Michael Moszynski is right to suggest the defections to Ukip could threaten Mr Cameron’s promise of an EU referendum, but that might be no bad thing.

A referendum under Mr Cameron could well be worse than not having one at all.

Any promises of reform that would encourage the British people to vote to remain in the EU would more than likely be reneged on, as they have been in the past.

David Rammell
Everton, Hampshire

SIR – Mr Cameron was laughing at Ukip; he isn’t laughing now.

Don Roberts
Birkenhead, Cheshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – It was with anticipation that I read my friend Derek Byrne’s piece, which quickly turned to dismay (“Marriage not a good fit for gay people’s lifestyles”, Opinion & Analysis, October 9th). He wrongly assumes that because he doesn’t encounter monogamous gay men in his day-to-day life that they must barely exist, and therefore marriage as it currently stands is not a “good fit for gay people’s lifestyles”.

The truth is far more likely to be that one doesn’t encounter many monogamous gay couples when out and about on the gay scene because, like their heterosexual counterparts, they have outgrown the bars and clubs which cater to singles and prefer to spend the majority of their lives in pursuit of what are, to all intents and purposes, “married” lives.

Yes, we may need to redefine marriage, which is an entirely different discussion, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many gay people who want to get married today. To say they are somehow betraying their roots is a touch patronising. If Mr Byrne doesn’t want to get married until marriage conforms to his vision, that’s his choice. But when it comes to voting in the referendum, I hope the people will allow the rest of us ours. – Yours, etc,


Crumlin, Dublin 12.

Sir, – I am gay, in a civil partnership, and know many same-sex couples who have been joined in civil partnership. I also know (as much as one can in these matters) that they, as I, live monogamously and have committed to do so for the rest of their lives – not because of a “village mentality” or “Catholic guilt” but on the basis of a desire to live by committing to an exclusive, intimate relationship. I do not appreciate Mr Byrne making assumptions about my “lifestyle” or that of my particular circle of friends by presenting them with “certainty”.

If Mr Byrne wants consultation and space for difference, let him start by not putting people into general categories on the basis of his anecdotal observations. – Yours, etc,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The recent call by John O’Connor of the Government’s Housing Agency for a reconsideration of the apartment sizes set out in Dublin City Council’s development plan (“Housing Agency calls for smaller apartments in Dublin”, October 4th) opens an interesting debate which could, in my view, be extended to cover a review of all the national standards that affect residential development.

As an architect and one of the consultants on the first government guidelines on residential density in 1999, I support the concept of higher density and more sustainable compact towns and cities. However there are many ways in which higher densities can be achieved without constructing tall buildings. In my view, the model we need to move towards, in the main, is low rise, higher density, except in the centre of towns and cities where the scale of building should be substantially higher.

In Dublin, we cite successful neighbourhoods such as Portobello, Phibsborough, etc, as ideal examples of residential design incorporating low-rise, family-friendly places to live. We need to examine why this is so and how it has been achieved.

The density in these areas is quite high and comparable with many high-rise schemes, but dwelling sizes tend to be smaller, gardens more compact, public open space limited and car parking kept to a minimum but with good access to public transport. The result seems to be vibrant places in which people like to live.

The standards set out in most of our current plans for new development require much greater areas of land to be kept free at ground level to facilitate gardens, open spaces and car parking than is provided in the neighbourhoods mentioned above. This inevitably results in pushing buildings “up in the air” in order to achieve sustainable densities.

In many cases this has often created unsatisfactory ground-level areas of unsightly surface car parking and large but soulless windswept open spaces. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate these standards and see if they are militating against achieving low-rise, higher-density solutions, particularly for edge of town and suburban locations where residents could live closer to ground level and have access to smaller, but better designed, more usable open spaces. A wider range of smaller dwelling sizes also needs to be looked at, which responds better to our current demographics and depends on access to public transport; car parking requirements, particularly directly outside the front door, need to be restricted.

This might allow us then to have “streets” in the true meaning of the word, as uncluttered places where people can walk, cycle or even play in safety. It is only from there that we can begin to move towards creating neighbourhoods, establishing a sense of place and building communities. – Yours, etc,


Rathgar, Dublin 6.

Sir, – Rev Patrick G Burke (September 27th) kindly invited all of those attending the meeting in Galway celebrating 21 years of the Humanist Association of Ireland to spend some time in local churches, and some may well have done so.

I was brought up as a Christian, I attend church services from time to time and I value many friends who are religious. I am frequently moved by wonderful sacred music and I appreciate thoughtful addresses, notably at funerals, which bind people together and give us all some strength. I sometimes explain humanism as Christianity without God. Most of the people who signed the first Humanist Manifesto (1933) were Unitarian ministers. There is not much distance between the best of humanism and the best of religion, but it is fundamental.

My difficulty is that I was never able to find any reason to believe in the supernatural. On the other hand I had no difficulty in discovering that ethics have a sound basis in human experience. Rev Dr Twomey (September 29th), a distinguished theologian, and a sharp critic of his own church, advocates faith in addition to science (or reason), but faith in what, a God, a soul, life after death, transubstantiation, the virgin birth, the Trinity, resurrection from the dead, faith in the authority of his church? There is not a shred of evidence to believe any of the supernatural claims of any religion, which is why the churches, recognising the eternal hope for certainty and happiness in an uncertain and cruel world, must appeal to “faith”, uncritical acceptance of what one reads in books written thousands of years ago and what one is told by priests.

Humanists have found that they get on well without faith – they rely on what they can see and know from their own and other people’s reliable observations. Yes, humanists believe, in Dr Twomey’s words, that “nothing exists beyond the empirical realm” but that realm includes all the useful and reliable things and ideas that have emerged from people’s inquisitive and creative consideration of the world around them. Mathematics, chess and music, poetry, plays and books of all kinds, symphonies and song, painting and philosophy, family, friendship and fellowship, ordinary conversations, scientific theories from relativity to plate tectonics to evolution by natural selection, all of what Karl Popper called World III, the “world” invented by mankind, and yes, religion, are part of the humanist world. If we did not exist, none of these would exist. All these can be experienced and tested for their value in our efforts to lead contented and good lives. But everything invented by people – people made God, not vice versa – should be tested for its reasonableness and value. God may be a valuable idea to many people but not to humanists, and we do not think it is fair for those who believe in God, to insist that God should intrude into their lives.

Dr O’Leary (October 2nd) suggests we humanists should recognise the “phenomena of truth and falsehood, good and evil”.

Well of course we do recognise these, but in the end, while obeying the laws of democratic society, we decide for ourselves what is true or false, good or evil, doing our best to follow the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We do not unthinkingly follow the rules of any religion, and certainly not one which claimed it was heretical to say that the Earth went round the Sun, a church which burned (1600) the Dominican theologian Bruno because among other reasonable suggestions he thought there was life elsewhere in the universe (nearly 2,000 exoplanets have been discovered since 1995), a church which threatened the founder of modern science, Galileo, with execution, a church which still today says it is evil to use contraceptives (1968), a church whose leading bishops continue to claim that humanists are not fully human (Archbishop Murphy, 1968; Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor 2009), a church which assures us that women are lesser creatures than men. This is a church which, as an institution imbued with faith in the supernatural, on so many issues has not been able to distinguish truth and falsity, good and evil.

Please do not misunderstand me. The great majority of religious people have nothing to do with these views, and they have quietly rejected them. Many people find solace in religion and the goodness and decency of the great majority of our citizens has been influenced by their religious beliefs. I respect the many thoughtful contributions of religious people to our efforts to resolve the daunting moral dilemmas we face in the modern world, especially in my own field of genetics.

But fewer and fewer people believe in the place or need for supernatural guidance. They have learned that the supernatural is not reliable and not necessary.

If you have no faith in the supernatural, and if you believe in your own capacity to decide on what is true or false, good or evil, guided by your own experience and the verifiable experience and reasonable ideas of other obviously thoughtful people, you are to all intents and purposes a humanist.

As one good friend, a pillar of our society, said to me 30 years ago – “Sure lots of us are like that but we just don’t say so”. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Well done to Dr Edward Horgan for his illuminating and insightful letter regarding university league tables (October 7th).

I can easily relate to what he says as I too feel that younger academics are being exploited within the university sector.

This is particularly evident within the field of postgraduate doctoral research. Instead of fostering independent thought, the majority of senior academics advise students to specialise in areas that conveniently overlap with their own research interests.

As a result, many students suffer in silence and are forced to pay lip service to their supervisors so that they can increase their chances of employment and achieve some degree of permanency.

In my opinion, this approach reinforces the powerful position of the university elite and worsens the “employee apartheid” that is becoming increasingly common in third-level institutions.

If there is a willingness to address this problem, then there should be no reason why these seats of learning could not improve their status within the university league tables. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – A recent news report (“Rising museum postponed”, October 7th) refers to a proposed commemorative centre at 14 to 17 Moore Street, “believed to have been used by the leaders of the Rising”. All buildings along the Moore Street terrace were occupied and held by volunteers as the last headquarters of the 1916 Provisional Government of the Irish Republic.

Number 10 Moore Street, the point of entry into the terrace by the GPO garrison and where the leaders spent their last night of freedom, is now being offered up in a proposed deal by Chartered Land supported by City Management. This would secure the planning application for a shopping centre on the last extant 1916 battleground – an area described by our National Museum as “the most important historic site in modern Irish history”.

It is truly remarkable that buildings that were occupied by five of the signatories to our Proclamation before their execution by firing squad are considered fair game. Elected members of the city council should not engage in this charade. It is deeply insulting to the memory of the men and women of 1916. It runs contrary to the recommendations of its own Moore Street Advisory Committee that has called for an independent battlefield survey of this historic area and the preservation of all 1916 buildings. That survey must now be implemented in the public interest, given the belated recognition of the historical importance of number 10 Moore Street – a building set to be demolished and lost forever under what in effect is now an outdated and redundant Chartered Land planning application. – Yours, etc,



Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – The negative reaction to the Central Bank’s mortgage proposals reminds me of the observation, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history”.

House buyers will almost invariably bid the maximum amount they can get their hands on – a reduction in credit will therefore reduce the maximum price that will be bid by the typical buyer and therefore reduce prices generally as prices are always set at the margin.

While there is much to be said for assisting young people, this must be done via supply of houses for rent and purchase and by disincentivising landlords from crowding out first-time buyers from the market. More fuel on the fire is not needed, and the Central Bank is to be commended for looking out for the greater good. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – There has been much discussion in your sports pages about head injury and concussion in rugby (“Concussion on the political agenda”, October 3rd). When I played rugby (in the last century), the purpose of the tackle was to halt, not to hurt, the opponent. The introduction of the term and practice of the “hit” implies an intention to hurt or injure.

Rugby is becoming a dreary contest of beefed-up behemoths in crude collisions, with frequent consequential injuries.

American-style helmets serve only to increase the impact on the brain.

Rugby needs somehow to revert to a running, passing game where the speed of the man or ball wins, not physical force. Suggestions? Learn from Rugby Sevens? More running forwards like Sean Cronin? Less forceful tackles? – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Prof John A Murphy is right to state that the parallel drawn by John Bruton between Scotland today and Ireland a century ago is “unhistorical” (September 22nd).

It is, however, much less “unhistorical” to observe that Irish Party leaders such as Redmond and John Dillon were interested in dominion status and that they had first-hand knowledge of political developments in the self-governing parts of the then British Empire; it is also worth noting that one senior colonial politician, Edward Blake, the former Canadian Liberal Party leader and premier of Ontario, was an Irish Party MP from 1892 to 1907. The suggestion that Home Rule as offered in 1914 might have been a stage to greater autonomy, even eventually to dominion status, is hardly implausible or ridiculous. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Recently, while changing some euro, it struck me how boring our paper currency has become. Other countries, outside the euro belt, have portraits of their national figures – artists, philosophers and the like.

Europe has almost limitless possibilities but has failed to use this resource.

There are figures who, in the past, succeeded in uniting Europe; Julius Caesar springs to mind, although admittedly more recent personalities may be contentious.

Of course, where the world of art is concerned we are spoilt for choice – Johannes Goethe, Émil Zola, Cervantes, our own James Joyce and WB Yeats. And then music – ah music – glorious Mozart, Bach, Bono, Édith Piaf, Richard Tauber – the list is almost too much.

I haven’t even touched on the world of painting and sculpture.

Why has this opportunity been ignored? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – During the extended 1998-2007 drought in Victoria, water companies convinced customers to be more economical in their use of this precious resource. They then changed their billing practices, raising standing charges and downgrading usage charges.

Water may not be flowing with the same abundance as before but the water companies’ revenue streams are nonetheless in full flood. – Yours, etc,




Irish Independent:

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” (Edgar Allan Poe)

In the future, generations who live on this island will look to October 11, 2014 as one of the most special days in modern history. It will be revered as much as the Easter Rising, for on this day something truly ground-breaking occurred. Although we are all probably too close to the day to truly appreciate what happened, the fact is that for the first time in our history as an independent nation, we actually saw through that which has prevented us from truly joining the nations of the earth.

Just as the overpowering light of a full moon dims the far-off stars in the night sky, the traditional parties of Ireland have, since the foundation of the State, obscured in many ways our true past. Their self-professed loud howlings of knowing what is good for our nation have seen wave after wave of emigration of those who have been frozen out to the far reaches of the globe.

Their economic projections and claims that we live in a global economy were severely tested and the bluff was called.

Thousands and thousands marched on Dublin.

Two Independent candidates made a mockery of not only the pollsters but the bookies, who have to a certain degree maintained the myth that the only alternative for our nation’s future could come from two or three groupings of traditional parties that have, in the cold light of day, bowed to the whims of foreigners.

The Dail – a place that has seen a woman groped in full view of the world, that has produced eejits that think of sending crank calls to their fellow parliamentarians about pizza at taxpayers’ expense – is under great change.

When Michael Noonan presents the economic claptrap called the Budget he will be doing so from a position where those he represents are already yesterday’s news. The collapse in the vote of both Labour and Fine Gael is not something that will recover and nor should it, in my opinion. Nor should the few polished performers from other parties be seen as the deliverers of Ireland’s future.

All great crises bring great change. At the end of the crisis true people of character come to the fore.

Congratulations to those who won seats and congratulations to those who marched.

Dermot Ryan

Athenry, Co Galway

Precious thing called love

I read recently that the late lamented Diarmaid O Muirithe, in one of his great contributions to our understanding of words, expressed his fear that the lovely word “precious” would ultimately disappear entirely except for its sacred use, as in “the most precious blood of the Saviour”.

Well, I can assure you Diarmaid, that it will never disappear in our house, as for many years I have been calling my lovely wife “precious”.

A wonderful word, “precious”, for a wonderful wife.

Brian Mc Devitt

Glenties, Co Donegal

Riddle of Childers’ execution

Your synopsis of the ‘Riddle of the Sands’ described the book’s author, Erskine Childers Snr, as “a political revolutionary . . . executed by the British in 1922″.

Was this Childers not executed by the Cumann na nGaedheal government (who were Irish) under anti-concealed weapon legislation, having been found carrying a small, ornamental pistol gifted to him by none other than Michael Collins?

Killian Foley-Walsh


The root of Keano’s pain

Even the most useless psychologist would cut to the nub of Roy Keane’s psychosis in a minute. It’s called “rejection”. Rejection by the man who moulded and made Roy.

Those runs, those rows with opposition hit men. That relentless drive and bossing in the dressing room for Alex came to nought when the legs went.

The sacrifice against Juventus in 1999; the subjugation of the Gunners and all the other noisy neighbours; the scattered feathers of the Liver Bird mattered not a whit to Alex when Roy became surplus to requirements.

Like a prodigal son spurned , Keane rails at the sky. Roy left but Alex continued winning. That’s the real pain for Roy. Look forward to the third book ‘Extra Time’ . . . and more Fergie time.

John Cuffe

Dunboyne, Meath

Imminent threat of Ebola

Ebola is getting out of hand. It is spreading and has already reached Europe.

When the news broke a few days ago that Spanish nurse Teresa Romero had contracted the deadly virus, the reaction in Spain was one of shock and horror: not only at the possible fate of the poor nurse but also at the realisation of the economic consequences on a country that largely relies on tourism to make a living.

Since then, 14 other people in Spain have been admitted for screening.

Make no mistake, Ebola is on its way here. Ireland has become interconnected in a world that has grown smaller and smaller in an unprecedented way.

Screening at airports and ports and securing the border may bring some assurance, but many people passing through such controls would present as asymptomatic. Besides, this strategy still needs to be considered. The Government, via the HSE, needs to roll out an information campaign to inform the population.

Killian Brennan

Malahide, Dublin 17

Reviewing corporate tax

It is good the Government has accepted that the rules on corporate tax have to be reviewed globally and that it will play its full part in that review. It is also good that it has been made clear that this does not extend to taxation rates themselves.

This last week, Minister of State Simon Harris made it abundantly clear that Ireland does not seek to attract brass plate companies.

Might it not be an idea to take the lead on this point and implement such national measures as we can to prevent these types of companies from registering here.

John F Jordan

Killiney, Co Dublin

Appointing deputy judges

Like anyone who represents a party, or parties, before our courts, I read with concern the comments the President of the High Court made about the shortage of judges.

Perhaps one way to address this matter would be to amend our Constitution to permit the appointment of part-time or deputy judges.

One perceived difficulty with the present system is that once a judge is appointed, if s/he demonstrates a lack of judicial ability, it is very hard to do very much about it, save the ultimate sanction of impeachment.

Appointing a deputy would have the benefit of addressing any shortage in judges, as well as allowing the Judicial Appointments Board to take into account the aptitude and experience of a deputy judge when considering them for full-time appointment in the future.

It might also make the proposed amendment on the issue of blasphemy more relevant to the voters, if another constitutional amendment was proposed along with it.

Johnnie McCoy BL

Law Library, Four Courts, Dublin 7

Irish Independent


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